Home News Ukraine, Russia complete prisoner exchange amid inclusion mystery

Ukraine, Russia complete prisoner exchange amid inclusion mystery

Ukraine, Russia complete prisoner exchange amid inclusion mystery

Ukraine and Russia have completed a prisoner exchange that involved swapping dozens of detainees, including some high-profile figures, amid the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, the deal was shrouded in mystery and confusion, as some of the expected names were missing from the lists and others were added at the last minute.

The exchange took place on Saturday at a checkpoint near the city of Horlivka, in the Donetsk region, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014. According to the Ukrainian presidency, 34 Ukrainians were freed in exchange for 35 Russians or pro-Russian supporters. Among them were 24 sailors captured by Russia in the Kerch Strait in 2018, as well as filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges after protesting against Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Russian side received some of its most wanted figures, such as Volodymyr Tzemach, a former commander of a separatist air defense unit who is considered a key witness in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. Tzemach was arrested by Ukrainian special forces in June and was reportedly on the verge of revealing crucial information about the incident.

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The prisoner swap was hailed as a major step towards easing tensions and resolving the conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who made the exchange a priority since taking office in May, said it was “a very difficult but important step” and thanked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for his “political will”. Putin, for his part, said he hoped the deal would “improve the atmosphere” and lead to a full settlement of the crisis.

However, the exchange also raised many questions and concerns, as some of the expected participants were left out or replaced by others. For instance, Ukrainian journalist Roman Yushchenko, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in Russia for espionage, was not on the list of released prisoners, despite earlier assurances from Zelensky’s office. Instead, Russia freed Kirill Vyshinsky, the head of Russian state news agency RIA Novosti’s Ukraine branch, who was accused of treason by Kyiv for supporting the separatists.

Another controversial figure was Oleksandr Kolchenko, a Crimean activist who was arrested along with Sentsov and also sentenced to 20 years in prison. Kolchenko refused to take part in the exchange, saying he did not want to be traded for “people who have blood on their hands”. He also said he did not recognize himself as a Ukrainian citizen and demanded to be released as a political prisoner.

The prisoner swap was also criticized by some human rights groups and international organizations, who said it violated international law and undermined justice. They argued that some of the people exchanged were not prisoners of war or hostages, but criminal suspects or convicts who should face fair trials and investigations. They also warned that the deal could set a dangerous precedent and encourage further violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The prisoner exchange was seen as a possible precursor to a summit between Zelensky and Putin, along with the leaders of France and Germany, who are part of the so-called Normandy format that seeks to mediate the conflict.

The summit has been postponed several times due to disagreements over the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a peace plan signed in 2015 that envisages a ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons, and a political dialogue between Kyiv and the separatists. The last meeting of the Normandy format took place in 2016.

The prisoner swap was also seen as a test of Zelensky’s ability to negotiate with Putin and deliver on his campaign promises of ending the war and restoring peace. Zelensky, a former comedian and political novice, has faced criticism from some of his supporters and opponents for being too soft or naive in dealing with Russia.

He has also faced pressure from the United States, which has been providing military and financial aid to Ukraine since 2014. The US has recently been embroiled in a scandal over allegations that President Donald Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had business dealings in Ukraine.

The prisoner exchange was a rare moment of cooperation between Ukraine and Russia, two countries that have been locked in a bitter confrontation since 2014. However, it also exposed the complexity and uncertainty of the situation, as well as the challenges and risks that lie ahead for both sides.

The exchange may have opened a window of opportunity for dialogue and diplomacy, but it also raised doubts and suspicions about the motives and intentions of each party. The fate of the remaining prisoners, as well as the future of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, remains unclear.

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