Russia releases foreign prisoners of war in brokered prisoner swap

Russia has released a number of detainees, including British and Americans, after the mediation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the official Saudi news agency reported on Wednesday.

The detainees, including Swedish and Moroccan citizens, have been flown to the Gulf Kingdom from where they will be repatriated, the official Saudi news agency said, adding that their freedom was part of an exchange.

The exchange involved about 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war, including 100 who set up a final defense of the city of Mariupol at the Azovstal steel plant in May, Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, told Ukrainian television.

In return, Kiev released 55 Russian prisoners of war and Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian MP and ally of Vladimir Putin, who had been arrested on treason charges.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly welcomed the release of the POWs and a civilian, including five British citizens.

“Tragically, that was not the case for one of those arrested and our thoughts remain with Paul Urey’s family,” Cleverly said in a statement. Urey, 45, a aid worker, is said to have died in detention in July after being captured by pro-Russian separatists.

He cleverly thanked the President of Ukraine and Prince Mohammed for the release of the detainees.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the exchange, which he said included two US citizens who were captured while serving in the Ukrainian military.

“The United States appreciates Ukraine, including all POWs, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to seeing these American citizens reunited with their families,” he said.

Russia has imprisoned a number of foreign volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian military since it launched the invasion in February. These included two British prisoners who had argued for a prisoner swap in images from Russian television.

Volunteers from the US, Germany and France, among others, have been killed in fighting in Ukraine.

The release announcement came hours after Vladimir Putin ordered a partial recall of Russian reserves after a series of military setbacks, threatening nuclear war if Russia’s “territorial integrity” were attacked.

Moscow announced the “partial mobilization” of 300,000 reservists ahead of heavily staged votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine to join Russia.

Western officials estimate that there are currently between 150,000 and 190,000 Russian troops grounded in Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia’s mediation came after the kingdom, a traditional US ally, chose to remain largely neutral on the invasion of Ukraine, saying it would offer its mediation services.

The Gulf Kingdom has partnered with Russia in the OPEC+ group that decides on oil production.

Russia has separately sought to negotiate a prisoner swap with Washington that would release basketball star Brittney Griner, who was imprisoned in Russia for drug possession, for an arms dealer in a US prison.

Additional coverage by Andrew England in London, Felicia Schwartz in New York and Ben Hall in Kiev

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