(Reuters) -Russia’s parliament will consider banning the exchange of Russian prisoners of war for captured members of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, the speaker said on Tuesday, after the last Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works surrendered to Russian forces.
The Azov Regiment, a one-time nationalist militia now integrated into Ukraine’s National Guard, became the face of resistance against Russian troops in the city, which saw some of the fiercest fighting in what Moscow terms its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
But Moscow has depicted it as a main perpetrator of the alleged radical anti-Russian nationalism or even Nazism from which it says it needs to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, said its members were “Nazi criminals” who should not be included in prisoner exchanges.
“They are war criminals and we must do everything to bring them to justice,” he said.
The Duma website said he had asked the defence and security committees to prepare an instruction to that effect.
The regiment denies being fascist, racist or neo-Nazi, and Ukraine says it has been reformed away from its radical nationalist origins.
Kyiv also denies that Russian speakers have been persecuted in Ukraine, and says the allegation that it has a fascist agenda of violating human rights, repeated daily on Russian media, is a baseless pretext for Russian aggression.
Moscow said over 250 Ukrainian fighters in the steelworks had surrendered, and that 51 would be treated for serious injuries.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed that all would be treated “in accordance with international standards”.
Russia and Ukraine have already conducted several prisoner exchanges.
Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said that “an exchange procedure will take place” for the soldiers’ return.
But Leonid Slutsky, one of Moscow’s negotiators in talks with Ukraine and chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee, called the evacuated Azov fighters “animals in human form” and said they should receive the death penalty.
“They do not deserve to live after the monstrous crimes against humanity that they have committed and that are committed continuously against our prisoners,” he told the assembly.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)