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Kiev offers to swap detained Russian journalist Vyshinsky for terrorism convict Sentsov

Kiev offers to swap detained Russian journalist Vyshinsky for terrorism convict Sentsov
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered to release a Russian journalist, who is being held in Kiev on treason charges, if Moscow “simultaneously” releases a Ukrainian filmmaker, who has been imprisoned for terrorism.

Journalist Kirill Vyshinsky was arrested in May 2018 when he was the chief of RIA Novosti Ukraine, a Russia-linked news agency in Kiev. The Ukrainian authorities accuse him of treason, spreading false information, disseminating materials that call for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders, and waging “informational warfare” against the state. They also claim that he published reports and articles in support of the breakaway republics in the eastern part of the country, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Vyshinsky denies the allegations, saying that he was doing journalism and covered both sides fairly. If proven guilty, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

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There were reports that Vyshinsky may be part of a potential prisoner swap between Moscow and Kiev, especially after Zelensky, unlike his predecessor, expressed readiness to talk with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, without preconditions.

On Thursday, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that the release of Vyshinsky, who is a Russian national, by Ukraine would be “a wonderful first step” in fixing relations between the countries.

The suggestion sparked a quick response from Kiev. Zelensky’s spokesperson, Yuliya Mendel, said that Vyshinsky should be released “simultaneously” with Moscow releasing Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

Sentsov was detained in 2014 in Crimea on terrorism charges. According to the prosecution, he was a member of the Ukrainian far-right group Right Sector, which is banned in Russia, and planned to blow up a local Soviet-era war memorial, as well as setting on fire the offices of two pro-Moscow organizations. Sentsov, who denies all allegations, was later sentenced to 20 years in prison. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly demanded his release as a “political prisoner.”

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President Zelensky confirmed his willingness to swap the filmmaker for the detained journalist. “We will hand over Mr Vyshinsky to you, if that is what you want, and give us back Mr Sentsov,” he said, reiterating that both would have to be freed simultaneously.

There was no immediate reaction from Moscow to Zelensky’s comments. Putin had said last year that the cases of Vyshinsky and Sentsov are “completely different and incomparable,” since the former is being prosecuted for journalism, while the latter was imprisoned for terrorism.

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