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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference that the decision to return the Azovstal defenders to Ukraine did not harm Turkey's relationship with Russia, journalists from European Pravda reported.
The officers, captured by Russian forces while defending the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, were offered asylum in Turkey after Ukraine and Russia reached a prisoner exchange deal in September.
Erdogan addressed the issue at a press conference following the NATO summit in Vilnius on July 12. According to Erdogan, Turkey agreed to allow the officers to return to Ukraine at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"When we received this request, we handed over these commanders," Erdogan said.
Under the original conditions of the exchange deal, the Azovstal commanders were expected to remain in Turkey until the end of the war. Russian officials claimed that their transfer to Ukraine violated this agreement.
Erdogan said, however, that the move has not damaged relations with Moscow.
"At first, Russia was outraged, and then it turned into a positive thing," Erdogan told reporters.
He said that he expects to discuss the matter at a meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in September.
The Azovstal defenders were granted asylum in Turkey in exchange for the release of 55 unnamed Russian officers. On July 8, the five commanders returned to Ukraine on a plane with President Zelensky.