Russia May Abandon Captured Troops in Ukraine

Russia will reportedly consider abandoning captured Russian troops in Ukraine to avoid having to exchange captured members of Ukraine's Azov regiment.

The lower chamber of Russia's parliament, the State Duma, will look at a draft resolution on Wednesday that would prohibit the exchange of what one Russian politician described as "Nazi criminals," Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti reported.

"The [State Duma] Defense Committee proposes to include tomorrow in the procedure of the State Duma the consideration of a draft resolution on the instructions of the Chairman of the State Duma on preventing the exchange of Nazi criminals," committee head Andrey Kartapolov said at a plenary session.

State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin also referred to the prisoners as "Nazi criminals" and said that "we must do everything to bring them to justice," according to Al Jazeera.

Reports issued by the Security Service of Ukraine since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in late February have indicated that some Russian soldiers feel they are disposable and are being used as "cannon fodder" in the conflict. But Russia's leadership does not appear to have addressed the issue. If Russia decides to ban the exchange of captured members of the Azoz regiment—potentially depriving itself of the opportunity to use them as leverage in facilitating exchanges for Russian soldiers—the move may fuel reported discontent and brewing dissension among the troops.

Russia May Abandon Soldiers in Ukraine
Russia will reportedly consider abandoning captured Russian troops in Ukraine to avoid having to exchange captured members of Ukraine’s Azov regiment. Above, residents line up to get water in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on May 10. Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers had been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol, where Ukrainians had maintained a pocket of resistance against total Russian occupation of the city.

Members of the Azov regiment were among those helping to defend the plant.

Russia's defense minister said that dozens of the Ukrainian fighters who had surrendered and evacuated were seriously wounded and had been brought to a hospital in one of the pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, according to Al Jazeera.

Both Maliar and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of their intentions to bring the Ukrainian fighters home, but the latter noted during a video address Tuesday that doing so may not be a quick process.

"​​I want to emphasize, Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words," Zelensky said.

"The operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol was started by our military and intelligence officers. To bring the boys home, the work continues, and this work needs delicacy. And time," he added.

NATO has estimated that up to 40,000 Russian troops died or were wounded, captured or went missing during the first month of the war. The war is now nearing the end of its third month since it began in late February, so current estimates on the number of captured Russian soldiers may be much higher.

It was not immediately clear if Russia has other means to facilitate an exchange for its captured soldiers.

Newsweek reached out to the foreign ministries of Russia and Ukraine for comment.