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Russia 'may execute captured Ukrainian PoWs', Armed Forces minister warns
17 May 2022, 19:43 | Updated: 17 May 2022, 19:55
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr he fears Russia may execute Ukrainian prisoners of war.
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Heappey said reports Russia may designate more than 250 surrendered Azov Battalion soldiers as terrorists could be a "prelude" to their execution.
"Is there anything left to surprise us. Why designate them as terrorists if you’re going to do anything else," he said.
The fighters on Monday surrendered to Russia forces as the city of Mariupol fell to Moscow following a weeks-long hold out inside the city's Azovstal steelworks.
The soldiers were bussed to the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near Donetsk and placed in a former penal colony there amid reports of a plans for a prisoner exchange between Kyiv and Moscow.
Heappey, speaking to Marr, said: "I think there have been enough atrocities in this war already without seeing the execution or whatever of the prisoners of war, which I fear this is a prelude to...
"I just think we have to be very clear that sort of atrocity, the West would stand in utter condemnation of. Prisoners of war have a status enshrined in the Geneva Convention.
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"We’ve already seen the Geneva Convention broken too many times in this war."
The minister also warned the West should be ready to condemn Russia if Moscow breaks the Convention "in the way these prisoners are handled."
He added: "And by the same token, if there is an outrage, we need to be quick to impress on the Ukrainians that that’s not the sort of thing you respond to in kind, that maintaining the moral high ground is very important.
Russia on Tuesday called the removal of hundreds of Ukrainian fighters, including wounded men on stretchers, from the vast steel plant in Mariupol, a mass surrender.
The Ukrainians avoided using that word but said the garrison had completed its mission, and that they were working to pull out the fighters, their precise numbers unknown, that remain.
Azovstal’s fall would mark the complete capture of Mariupol, a significant milestone in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.It would give Russia its biggest victory yet after multiple setbacks, both military and diplomatic.
Its troops have suffered costly losses, and President Vladimir Putin is increasingly isolated internationally, with Finland and Sweden announcing in recent days that they intend to join NATO, a major blow to the Russian leader.
Wrapping up Mariupol’s capture would give Russia an unbroken land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and also deprives Ukraine of a vital port.
It could also free up Russian forces for fighting elsewhere in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine.