‘Poroshenko trying to win PR points with Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap’

Ukrainian servicewoman Nadiya Savchenko talks to the media at Boryspil International airport outside Kiev, Ukraine, May 25, 2016. © Gleb Garanich
How important is the exchange of convicted Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko and two Russians for relations between Kiev and Moscow? RT discussed with experts what may be the consequences.

Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty of murdering Russian journalists was exchanged on Wednesday for Russians Evgeny Erofeev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov who had been convicted of terrorism offences. Savchenko was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin simultaneously with the arrival of Erofeev and Aleksandrov in Moscow.

The exchange was shrouded in secrecy “because it is a sensitive affair,” says political analyst Dmitry Babich.

“It is very important politically for Ukrainian President Poroshenko; he is trying to gain PR points on this story,” he said.

The prisoner exchange comes shortly before the second anniversary of Poroshenko’s presidency, Babich said. In his view, Ukraine wanted the swap to coincide the anniversary “to get maximum PR effect.”  

According to the analyst, Poroshenko is in a very difficult political situation: “his promise over a visa-free regime with Europe was dumped” by Germany and France; “the economy is doing terribly…their trade with the EU fell by 26 per cent since Yanukovich’s time,”“economic relations with Russian are in a terrible state..”.

“So, basically Poroshenko has nothing to boast about,” he said. 

“The majority of Ukrainians are not happy with Mr. Poroshenko’s performance…and then suddenly you have this breaking news that he is bringing [Savchenko] back.”

However, in Babich’s view it will not make Poroshenko more popular since people are more interested in what is going on inside Ukraine.

Besides that, “not all Ukrainians are in raptures about Savchenko,” he added.

“We all remember how she behaved during that trial. She gave a finger to the judges. Now she is going to be a very important political person in Ukraine, but she is going to behave very much in the same style – being rude to people. And there is already too much rudeness in Ukrainian politics. I think for a few hours Mr. Poroshenko will be on the screens around the world. But that will not change the political situation in Ukraine,” Babich said.  

Regarding relations between Moscow and Kiev, there’s little significance in this exchange, according to Marcus Papadopolous, publisher and editor of Politics First magazine.

“On a personal level – there is significance. The two Russians who have returned today have families in Russia and the families will be delighted to have their beloved relatives back in Russia. But if we are talking about politically, in the long-term – this isn’t going to have any effect whatsoever,” he told RT.  

“How do you defuse the crisis in Ukraine? The West led by America has to renounce its plans of trying to bring Ukraine into the West’s orbit and, in particular, of trying to bring Ukraine into NATO.  Ukraine in NATO would pose a very serious threat to Russia’s national security. And on that basis – that is the crux of the crisis in Ukraine. The crisis has been caused by the West in the long-term and in the short-term by trying to bring Ukraine into the West’s orbit,” Papadopolous said.

According to political analyst Aleksandar Pavic, “Savchenko has been used as a rallying point in Ukraine, as a national hero, as a martyr."

"On the other hand, she was also used against Russia as pressure by many Western states and institutions including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as she is an elected member of Parliament in Ukraine as well as the Council of Europe. In a way, if Russia were to show good faith in this sense it might take the public pressure off it just a little bit. This is also a war of words and of images and this is something that has been going on between Ukraine and Russia for the past 25 years or so,” he told RT.

Western reaction ‘repulsive’

Top EU officials are celebrating Nadezhda Savchenko's release. RT asked political analyst Daniel Patrick Welch how appropriate it is given she was complicit in the murder of Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin near Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.

It’s repulsive. It really is a sad day in terms of watching the Western reaction to this,” Welch said. “You have to remember that this is about Voloshin and Kornelyuk, the journalists who were murdered…

Among Savchenko's first words when she landed in Kiev was that she is ready to go and fight in East Ukraine.

 “This is a murderer who was taking part in the repression of the people of Donbass on behalf of Poroshenko…And Poroshenko himself tweets that he will get Crimea back “as easily as I got Nadezhda Savchenko back” – which is absolutely contradictory to any agreements,” Welch told RT.

 “I hope the Russians are not as naïve as it seems; that they really expect this to melt some hearts. It is a humane gesture and, as Vladimir Putin said, it was done at the behest of Igor Kornelyuk’s widow which is a humane thing. That is no humanity on the other side of the table. That is what everyone has to realize. Poroshenko, the Donald Trump of Ukraine, will just spout anything that comes into his mind as unrealistic and silly as it sounds – such as that he is going to get Crimea back,” Welch said. “It is just blathering. But he is the spokesperson for this attack on Russia through the backdoor.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.