Putin tells Macron that Ukrainian "nationalists" in Mariupol must surrender

Russian President Vladimir Putin French President Emmanuel Macron France Mariupol

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that Ukrainian “nationalists” in the embattled city of Mariupol must lay down their arms.

“It was stressed that in order to resolve the difficult humanitarian situation in this city [Mariupol], Ukrainian nationalist militants must stop resisting and lay down their arms,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

The main Ukrainian defence force in the port city fighting the Russian military and their backed militias is the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.

President Vladimir Putin framed the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a "special mission" to protect Russian speakers from genocide at the hands of ​"neo-Nazis."

In a speech broadcast minutes before the invasion began on February 24​, Putin said: "We will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine."

For the Kremlin, Exhibit A in this special mission is the far-right Azov movement, part of the military and political landscape in Ukraine for nearly a decade. ​

Azov's military and political wings formally separated in 2016, when the far-right National Corps party was founded. The Azov battalion had by then been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, which falls under the command of Ukraine's Interior Ministry.

The Azov Battalion was formed in 2014, the same year Russian-backed rebels began seizing territory across Ukraine's eastern Donbass region, and Russia invaded and captured Crimea. At the time, Ukraine's Ministry of Defence encouraged volunteer battalions to join the resistance campaign and help its struggling army.

The battalion's role in recapturing Mariupol in June 2014 from Russian-backed forces brought it "hero status" in Ukraine, said Alexander Ritzmann, a senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), based in Berlin.

But that status came with baggage - the far-right views of some members and neo-Nazi insignia. These included the black sun, "a pagan symbol appropriated by Nazis for their pseudo-religion," and the Wolfsangel, "a symbol that far-right extremists have also adopted," he said.

"The Azov movement is a dangerous key player of the transnational extreme-right and has served as a network hub for several years now, with strong ties to far-right extremists in many European Union countries and the United States," Ritzmann added.

Meanwhile, nearly 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol since Russian forces laid siege to it, a spokesperson for the mayor said on Monday.

Mariupol is ruined, wrecked and demolished by war and the city council says 170,000 civilians remain trapped there.

Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that Russian forces controlled some neighborhoods and were entering "deeper into the city" of almost half a million people before the war but Mariupol remains "under the control of Ukrainian armed forces."

"Mariupol needs a complete evacuation," Boychenko told the local UNIAN news agency in an interview published overnight.

Boychenko said about 40 percent Mariupol's affected residential buildings are now uninhabitable.

In a reference to Russian forces surrounding the city, Boychenko said that "there are suburbs of the city which, of course, they took control of," adding that "the city is encircled and that circle is of course shrinking."

Boychenko cited a Ukrainian government estimate of "from 20,000 to 30,000" Mariupol residents having been forcibly sent to territory under Russian control.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who continues to hold talks with Putin to end the fighting, called on leaders to use caution in their words and actions when referring to the war in Ukraine.

"I wouldn't use this type of wording," Macron said on March 27 on French TV.

"We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation -- that's the objective. If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things -- neither with words nor actions," he said.

Biden also called Putin "a butcher," a "war criminal," and a "murderous dictator."

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