Ukraine tells Russia: Return prisoners if you want top ally back

LVIV, Ukraine: Ukraine told Russia to release prisoners of war if it wants the Kremlin’s most high-profile ally in the country freed as the United States is expected to send more weapons after Russia’s strongest signal yet the war will grind on.

US President Joe Biden referred to Russia’s attack on Ukraine as genocide for the first time, saying “we’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me.”

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and has said Ukrainian and Western allegations of war crimes were made up to discredit Russian forces.

Ukraine announced on Tuesday (Apr 12) that Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform – For Life party, had been apprehended. In February, the authorities said he had escaped house arrest after a treason case was opened.

The pro-Russian figure, who says President Vladimir Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing. A spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

“I propose to the Russian Federation: Exchange this guy of yours for our guys and girls now held in Russian captivity,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an early morning address on Wednesday.

Alongside a photo of Medvedchuk in handcuffs, the head of Ukraine’s security service Ivan Bakanov said on Facebook that operatives “conducted this lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation” to arrest him.

A Kremlin spokesman was cited by the Tass news agency as saying he had seen the photo and could not say whether it was genuine.

Hours earlier Putin used his first public comments on the conflict in more than a week to insist Russia will “rhythmically and calmly” continue its operation, saying he was confident his goals, including on security, would be achieved.

Zelenskyy mocked Putin in his address: “How could a plan that provides for the death of tens of thousands of their own soldiers in a little more than a month of war come about?”

Putin said that on-and-off peace negotiations “have again returned to a dead-end situation for us”.

During his comments on Tuesday, he frequently seemed to ramble or stammer.

Only occasionally did he adopt the icy, confident demeanour that has been his trademark in public appearances over more than 22 years as Russia’s leader.

Putin, who had been ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war, had largely retreated from public view since Russia’s withdrawal from northern Ukraine two weeks ago.

And with the battle set to drag on, the United States is expected to announce US$750 million more in military assistance, two officials told Reuters, likely including heavy ground artillery systems to Ukraine, including howitzers.

“We urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter as he hailed Biden’s comments on genocide.