Ukraine and Russia have exchanged military prisoners, the largest since the start of the offensive in late February, an announcement that comes after Vladimir Putin mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists to relaunch his offensive in Ukraine .
“We managed to free 215 people,” Ukrainian presidential administration chief Andriy Yermak said on Wednesday evening.
kyiv notably recovered 188 “heroes” who defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, a symbol of resistance to the Russian invasion, and this southern city – including 108 members of the Azov regiment. Five military commanders, including defense chiefs from Azovstal, have been transferred to Turkey, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
They will remain in this country “in absolute security and in comfortable conditions” until “the end of the war” under the terms of an agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to the Ukrainian head of state.
Russia has recovered 55 prisoners, including former MP Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused of high treason in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address.
Ten prisoners of war – including five British and two Americans – whose transfer from Russia to Saudi Arabia earlier in the day as part of an exchange between Moscow and Ukraine had been announced by Saudi diplomacy, are part of of this exchange, he noted.
This announcement comes a few hours after the order for partial mobilization of reservists given by Vladimir Putin, which provoked improvised demonstrations in at least 38 cities in Russia and the arrest of at least 1,332 people. These are the largest protests in Russia since those following the announcement of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
At the UN podium, US President Joe Biden frontally attacked Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, accusing it of having “shamelessly violated” the principles of the United Nations since its offensive in Ukraine.
And after Vladimir Putin threatened to use atomic weapons, the American president insisted: “A nuclear war is impossible to win and it must not be waged”.
A few hours earlier, in an address to the nation, Vladimir Putin said he was ready to use “all means” in his arsenal against the West, which he accused of wanting to “destroy” Russia. “It’s not a bluff,” he assured.
Speaking on Wednesday by videoconference at the annual United Nations General Assembly, Volodymyr Zelensky demanded “just punishment” against Moscow, strongly denouncing the invasion of his country by Russian troops and calling for the establishment of a special court to try Moscow “for its crime of aggression against our state”.
“We will not let this entity prevail over us,” he said, pronouncing the word “punishment” no less than fifteen times.
The United Kingdom will continue to provide military aid to Ukraine until its victory against Russia, promised the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday evening at the UN GA.
“We will only be quiet when Ukraine has triumphed,” she assured, saying that by decreeing the mobilization of reservists, Vladimir Putin “was trying to justify his catastrophic failure” in Ukraine.
This mobilization has been described in Europe as an “admission of weakness” from Moscow, whose army has suffered setbacks in recent weeks against Ukrainian forces.
An informal emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers took place on Wednesday evening in New York on Ukraine. The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said just after that the EU was considering new sanctions against Moscow after the mobilization order.
The European ministers adopted a declaration condemning “with force the last escalation of Russia”, underlined Josep Borell. “We will continue to increase our military aid and study new restrictive measures” against Moscow.
Following a meeting a little earlier devoted to the safety and security of civilian nuclear facilities in times of armed conflict, the foreign ministers of Germany, Canada, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Ukraine as well as the representatives of South Korea, the United States and Switzerland underlined in a joint statement “forcefully that the seizure and militarization by Russia of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant (were ) the root cause of today’s threats to nuclear safety and security”.
“We recall that the increased risk of a nuclear accident will remain dangerously high as long as Russia is present on the Zaporijjia site,” they said.
Ukrainian authorities have accused Moscow of having again bombed the site of the Zaporizhia power plant (southern Ukraine), the largest in Europe, on Wednesday.
The situation in this plant “is still deteriorating”, warned the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. “We cannot afford the luxury of waiting for something catastrophic to happen,” he added.
Taking care not to announce a general mobilization, feared by millions of Russians, Vladimir Putin decreed a “partial” measure on Wednesday, deemed “urgent and necessary”. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 300,000 reservists are initially concerned.
Sign of the concern of many Russians, airline sites were stormed after Vladimir Putin’s speech and an internet petition against the mobilization has already collected more than 230,000 signatures.
More than 1,300 people were arrested in anti-mobilization demonstrations according to OVD-Info, an organization specializing in counting arrests.
“Everyone is afraid. I’m for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But it’s very dangerous to go out now, otherwise there would have been a lot more people,” said a protester in Saint Petersburg, Vasily Fedorov, a student who wears a pacifist emblem on his chest.
The announcement Tuesday of “referendums” of annexation in the regions controlled by Moscow in Ukraine, from September 23 to 27, had signaled a hardening.
Russian military doctrine provides for the possibility of resorting to nuclear strikes if territories considered Russian by Moscow are attacked, which could be the case with annexed areas.