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5 Sep, 2019 17:29

Putin says prisoner exchange with Kiev will be MASSIVE. Why does it matter & who may be swapped?

Putin says prisoner exchange with Kiev will be MASSIVE. Why does it matter & who may be swapped?

Talks on the much-awaited prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine have reached their final stage, and it will be of a “mass-scale,” President Vladimir Putin said. Here are some notable names that may end up on the list.

It’s been plagued by several delays and surrounded by rumors and false reports, but the Moscow-Kiev exchange of prisoners is happening after all, Putin confirmed on Thursday.

“We are heading for the finalization of the talks,” he said, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum near the Russian city of Vladivostok. Without disclosing much detail, Putin said it’s expected to take place “in the near future.”

[The swap] will be quite large, mass-scale, which would be a good step forward, towards normalization [of Russian-Ukrainian relations].

It would seem the relationship between the two neighbors has only been getting worse since the 2014 coup in Kiev, followed by Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the lingering conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, the election of Volodymyr Zelensky has rekindled hopes of change. The Ukrainians, who chose the former comedian over the war rhetoric of ex-leader Petro Poroshenko, are also expecting him to live up to his promises, and do something about the war-weary Donbass – and the soured ties with their natural eastern partner. 

A prisoner exchange could be the first major step. The buzz surrounding it has dominated the regional news for months. Just last week, the media on both sides reported that a plane carrying high-profile Ukrainians held by Moscow was about to land in Kiev. That, however, quickly proved to be false.

Also on rt.com No prisoner swap with Russia on Friday, talks continue – Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine have not swapped prisoners since 2017. Here are some of the high-profile candidates that could make it onto the list, which has yet to be announced.

24 Ukrainian sailors sent to ‘provoke’ Russia

Following a tense Black Sea standoff in November, the Russian Coast Guard seized three Ukrainian warships trying to cross the narrow Kerch Strait without first getting a green light from the port authorities. Their crews – two dozen sailors – were arrested and charged with violating the maritime border. Moscow said the vessels, which sailed with several Ukrainian counterintelligence officers on board, were meant to provoke the Russian military into overreacting, while Putin accused Poroshenko of trying to boost his approval ratings ahead of an election.

Kiev has disputed this, accusing Moscow of unprovoked aggression and of hampering freedom of navigation. It refers to the arrested sailors as “political prisoners.” The incident has since been used to further build up tensions around Russia internationally – and to justify millions of dollars in US aid for the expansion of the Ukrainian Navy. 

Also on rt.com Tense standoff around Kerch Strait between Russia & Ukraine: How it developed

Filmmaker-turned-convicted terrorist

Detained by Russia in 2014, filmmaker Oleg Sentsov made headlines after being convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The prosecution said Sentsov was a member of the radical Ukrainian group, the Right Sector, and plotted to bomb a Soviet-era WWII memorial in Crimea, as well as setting several buildings on fire. 

The filmmaker denied all allegations. Ukraine has demanded his immediate release, and also calls him a political prisoner.

Also on rt.com Kiev offers to swap detained Russian journalist Vyshinsky for terrorism convict Sentsov

Journalist arrested for ‘treason’ 

In July, Zelensky openly proposed to swap Sentsov for journalist Kirill Vyshinsky. The head of the RIA Novosti Ukraine news agency and a Russian national, Vyshinsky was arrested last year and charged with treason. Kiev has accused him of publishing false information and backing the breakaway eastern Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. 

Vyshinsky has insisted that he was doing his job and covered all sides fairly. He was unexpectedly released on bail last Wednesday after being detained for over a year. Vyshinsky says, however, he has explicitly rejected offers to be put up for a swap and promised to stand trial in Ukraine.

Also on rt.com ‘I hope freedom of speech will be real value, not empty words’ – Vyshinsky after 1yr in Ukraine jail

‘Deserters,’ people captured in Donbass & ‘MH17 crash witness’

Ukraine currently holds several former servicemen it considers deserters because they chose to “defect” to Russia after Crimea voted to rejoin the country. One such prisoner is Aleksandr Sattarov, who served in the Berkut riot police unit. He has been charged with treason over the seizure of an airfield in Crimea shortly before the March 2014 referendum there. He denies having taken part.

Kiev also holds a Russian national called Igor Kimakovsky. He was delivering aid to Donbass during the war there, and drove up to a Ukrainian checkpoint by accident. The authorities now accuse him of being a sniper with the rebels. The lawyer for both men, Valentin Rybin, claimed they have been slated for the exchange and are currently going through paperwork.

Also on rt.com Peace in Ukraine? The friends and foes of a Kiev-Moscow settlement (By Stephen Cohen)

Another possible candidate is former Donetsk People’s Republic’s air defense commander, Vladimir Tsemakh. Kiev arrested him on terrorism charges – the accusation slapped on all pro-independence fighters in Donbass.

Meanwhile, the Dutch prosecutors believe him to be a valuable witness in their probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The Dutch-led team, which includes Ukraine, has urged Kiev not to hand Tsemakh over to Moscow. 

Tsemakh was released on bail on Thursday, fueling rumors that he was indeed being swapped. Kiev has refused to comment if that was the case.

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