Putin’s military ally said he was caught off guard by Ukraine’s prisoner swap with Russia.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he was “extremely unhappy” with the deal.
In particular, he disputed the fact that senior fighters from the Azov battalion were released.
One of Vladimir Putin’s key military allies broke ranks and sharply criticized the Russian-Ukrainian prisoner swap, saying he and his Chechen colleagues were caught off guard.
Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya and generally a staunch supporter of Putin, disputed that around 100 Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov regiment – a battalion associated with neo-Nazis – had been sent back to Ukraine. In the early months of the war, Chechen soldiers conscripted to aid Russian soldiers clashed with Ukrainian fighters from Azov in Mariupol as the Russians briefly occupied the city.
Kadyrov said on Thursday he was “extremely unhappy” with the swap, calling the Azov fighters “terrorists”.
“I am extremely unhappy with the news yesterday. The whole situation doesn’t even make sense to me,” Kadyrov said in a telegram, according to a translation by Russian media outlet Meduza. “Whenever combat or tactical decisions were made, they always consulted with us, the active participants in the special military operation. But now…” Kadyrov added.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said in an update posted on the administration’s Telegram channel that 215 Ukrainians had been fired following the prisoner swap, which, according to Yermak, had also been brokered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Along with 55 Russian fighters, Viktor Medvedchuk, an MP and one of Putin’s staunchest Ukrainian allies, was sent to Russia, Reuters reported. He was arrested by Ukrainian authorities in April.
Among the 215 Ukrainians freed were 100 fighters from the controversial and far-right Azov Battalion, which Russia has previously called “neo-Nazis”. Some founding members of the paramilitary group that emerged in the wake of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea also wore Nazi paraphernalia and gave the nickname.
“Handing over even one of these Azov terrorists should have been out of the question,” Kadyrov wrote in his post.
He also added that he would continue to follow Putin’s orders.
“Those at the top of the Ministry of Defense and the FSB can see things much more clearly,” Kadyrov wrote, adding that his forces would adhere to “our main unwavering principle: that we will follow all orders from our Commander-in-Chief!”
On Wednesday, 10 foreign fighters fighting for Ukraine captured by Russia – including two Americans – were also freed in a settlement brokered in part by Saudi Arabia. The bilateral prisoner swap is a massive coup for the Ukrainians, who have made considerable gains against the Russian invaders in recent weeks.
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