On September 7, Russia and Ukraine completed the “35 for 35” prisoner swap. The development included months of negotiations at various levels. At one point, even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the matter over the phone.
The development was describe by some experts as the first step in mending the ‘dead-end’ relations between the states. It was also widely praised internationally.
Russia and Ukraine just swapped large numbers of prisoners. Very good news, perhaps a first giant step to peace. Congratulations to both countries!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova said that the negotiations process was marked by some “provocations” and other challenges. Nonetheless, “the political will and meticulous work delivers results”, she added.
Ukraine received a total of 35 persons from Russia. This number includes 24 sailors involved in the November 2018 provocation in the Kerch Strait staged by then-President Petro Poroshenko and his government. The rest of the released people is proven terrorists, spies and criminals. For example:
- Pavel Grib – the 21yo man was detained in Belarus in August 2017. He went to Gomel to meet a girl with to whom he suggested to carry out a terrorist attack on one of the schools in the Russian city of Sochi. In March 2019, the North Caucasian District Military Court sentenced him to six years in a colony for promoting terrorist activities.
- Stanislav Klykh and Nikolai Karpyuk – members of the neo-Nazi organization of the Ukrainian ‘patriots’ known as the UNA-UNSO (in 2014 it merged with the Right Sector). They were sentenced for attempted murder and killing of Russian troops in Chechnya in 1994-1995, as well as for organizing and participating in an illegal armed group. During the conflict in Chechnya, they supported local terrorist groups and participated in clashes against Russian troops.
- Oleg Sentsov – a self-styled film director. He was aleader of the terrorist cell that was preparing terrorist attacks in Crimea in 2014. In 2015, he was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum security colony on charges of preparing terrorist attacks on the peninsula and creating a terrorist organization.
- Alexey Sizonovich – the man was preparing a terrorist attack in the Russian region of Rostov.
- Artur Panov – the man was preparing a terrorist attack in the Russian region of Rostov.
- Eugene Panov – the pan was preparing diversions in Crimea.
Despite these facts, mainstream media outlets and Western diplomats continue to claim that the people involved in preparing terrorist attacks, murders and other activities of this kind are ‘political prisoners’.
At the same time, the list of persons handed over by Ukraine to Russia is quite different. It mostly consists of persons accused of conducting a ‘treason’ and similar accusations. In the realities of the modern Ukraine, this means that they were detained by political motives. For example:
- Kirill Vyshinsky – a journalist working in Kiev. He was the head of the Ukrainian branch of Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. In 2018, he was charged with treason and backing the fighters from the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine. Since then, Ukrainian security services have not been able to provide any evidence confirming their claims. So, the case remains open in court.
- Evgeny Mefedov – he workwed as a taxi driver in Odessa. He was accused by Ukrainian authorities of being involved in riots in Odessa on May 2, 2014. He strongly denies the claim. In September 2017, he was released because of the lack of any evidence confirming the initial claim, but then again arrested on new charges of violent acts to overthrow state power and of infringing on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. He was released from custody seven times due to insufficient evidence. Nonetheless, the Kiev regime continued detaining him again and again.
- Alexander Baranov and Maxim Odintsov – the former Ukrainian military servicemembers. After the 2014 events, they remained in Crimea where joined the Russian Armed Forces. They were detained at the Chongar checkpoint north of Crimea in November 2016.
- Vladimir Tsemakh – he was a member of the air defense unit of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). The unit consisted of one vehicle with Zu-23 anti-aircraft gun. He was kidnapped in the DPR and moved to Kiev in 2019. Initially, Ukrainian security services claimed that he was involved in the downing of the MH17. However, when it appeared that the period of his service in the DPR air defense and the equipment of the unit are in contrary to this version, Kiev claimed that he is a valuable witness in the MH17 probe.
The decision of the Zelensky administration to finalize the prisoner swap could be considered as a positive signal. Nonetheless, the developments in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine demonstrate that, in general, the Kiev policy towards the ongoing civil war remains the same. The Ukrainian military and political leadership are not going to fulfill the terms and demands of the Minsk agreements. Artillery and mortar strikes target civilian areas in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republic on a regular basis. Both self-proclaimed republics’ forces and the Ukrainian Army suffer casualties.
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