Russia, Ukraine Swap Prisoners In First Step To Settle Conflict

After the prisoner exchange, President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone. 

7 September 2019

Russia and Ukraine swapped 35 prisoners on each side Saturday in a lengthy and carefully-negotiated rapprochement that is considered a “first step” to mend the relations between Kiev and Moscow, although full normalization is still a long way ahead.

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova hailed the prisoner exchange as “a historical mass-scale humanitarian action,” confirming the swap was “35-for-35,” as planes from each nation landed in both Kiev and Moscow carrying the prisoners.

The freed Ukrainians included 24 sailors detained by Russia during a clash in waters off Crimea last year. Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, jailed in Russia, was also present. Among those handed to Moscow was Volodymyr Tsemakh, alleged suspect in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The news received wide praise from the West. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said the swap delivered a “hopeful sign” to end the conflict. Her country is part of the Normandy Contact Group, tasked with resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

After the prisoner exchange, President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone.

They agreed that the swap is an important step to mending ties between the two countries, the Kremlin press service informed, adding that the leaders discussed the prospects of solving the crisis inside Ukraine and putting an end to the lengthy conflict between Kiev and the breakaway Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

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Relations between Russia and Ukraine soured after the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a referendum on March 16, 2014, to consult its population about the entry of its territory into the Russian Federation.

This popular consultation, which the Crimean Parliament approved on Feb. 27, authorized the members of the Supreme Council of Crimea to separate Crimea from Ukraine. Sevastopol, which had a different political status, also held its own referendum and decided to join Russia.

Later, both Crimea and Sevastopol declared their independence on March 11 and formed the Republic of Crimea, a decision which the Crimean Parliament took by majority too. Soon after the separatist eastern governments of Donetsk and Lugansk declared independence as well, initiating a five-year-old conflict with Kiev.

Nevertheless, the U.S. and other Western countries ignored the Crimean people’s will, arguing that the referendum results were illegal according to the 1998 Ukrainian Constitution, which allowed the Ukrainian parliament to veto any legislation passed by the Crimean parliament.

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