The massive prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine on Sept. 22 was reportedly worked out by a diverse collection of power brokers — including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak.
The nearly 300-person exchange — the largest of prisoners since Russia's war with Ukraine started — involved the release of 215 Ukrainians, 55 Russians, a Putin confidant, and 10 foreign nationals, including two Americans.
The deal was seen as very favorable to Ukraine, who received a much higher number of their POWs in exchange for Russians.
Despite strong disapproval of the deal by the Russian military and FSB, Putin agreed. The Russian leaders was apparently motivated to do the swap to free his ally, Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian political leader and Ukrainian oligarch who was under arrest.
Reportedly, the transaction went down with the help of power brokers that included Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, who has grown in stature as a result of the war, and has the ear of both Putin and the Biden administration.
The Crown Prince, described as Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, was said to be "instrumental in the deal" — sending his personal security team and his plane to Russia to pick up the prisoners.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has credited Saudi Arabia for the POW swap, saying they played an "essential" role in negotiations, according to Bloomberg.
And the middleman exchanging messages between Moscow and Kyiv was billionaire Abramovich — who is under sanctions by the U.K. and European Union for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Post reported.
The United States has yet to place Abramovich under sanctions, reportedly at the request of the Zelenskyy government.
Since the start of the war, Abramovich has sought to play an intermediary role, one of the few members of Putin's inner circle who has the respect of the Ukrainians.
According to the Post, Abramovich flew to Riyadh and Moscow to arrange the agreement, and kept Yermak and Ukrainian officials apprised of the Kremlin's outlook.
Under the terms of the agreement, Russia released five commanders who led Ukraine's defense of the strategic port city of Mariupol and became national symbols of resistance.
The other Ukrainian soldiers were exchanged at Ukraine's northern border with Russia while the 10 foreign nationals, including two Americans, were flown to Saudi Arabia before being sent home.
Russia had branded the Azov fighters as terrorists after capturing them in May.
Like Abramovich, the Saudi crown prince has sought to improve his standing in the West following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, the Post noted.
"We want the Saudis and the Emiratis closer to Washington and farther away from Russia," an unnamed official told the Post, noting the decisions of India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE can make or break the Russian economy.
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