Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap delayed because of charges against Ukrainian sailors
Russia and Ukraine could use a new approach to criminal cases in their prisoner exchange, the newspaper Kommersant reported, citing a source close to the negotiation process.
According to the initial arrangement, the prisoner swap was meant to take place on September 1. Kommersant notes that the format has been expanded to 35 prisoners from each side. The newspaper’s source explained that problems emerged because the countries could not agree on the legal basis for releasing and transferring prisoners. In theory, the prisoners can be exchanged after pardoning by the presidents, but Moscow and Kyiv are still discussing the legal status of the detainees.
Initially, it was presumed that the Ukrainian sailors who were captured by Russian border guards would simply be sent to Ukraine with the case materials. However, following consultations with investigators from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and prosecutors, the decision was made to change the scheme. The sailors will now be permitted to leave Lefortovo Prison in Moscow not with the case files, but with a notarized copy, with the result that the Ukrainian law enforcement organs will not have to conclude the case against its own citizens. This is due to the fact that, since the very beginning, Kyiv has considered the charges against the sailors illegitimate, and demanded their unconditional release.
However, after the sailors are returned home, the FSB will retain the original case files. The sailors’ attorneys will acquaint themselves with the materials, after which they will be sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office, and then to court, where they will be tried in absentia. Russia could use the verdicts as an attempt to justify its prosecution of the sailors, who could file a complaint against Moscow at the European Court of Human Rights after their release.
On August 21, numerous sources reported that the prisoner exchange negotiations had reached their final stage. At the time, a source told RBC that the swap would be done in the format “33 for 33” without taking into account Kirill Vyshinsky, editor-in-chief of RIA Novosti’s Ukrainian branch, who was released on bail by a court in Kyiv on August 28.
On August 30, the Security Service of Ukraine clarified that the prisoner exchange negotiations were still underway, and that no specific date had been finalized. Russian Presidential Advisor Yuri Ushakov also said that the preparations for the exchange were being carried out in a closed-door fashion, and that certain progress had been made. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said on September 2 that several legal procedures needed to be performed before the prisoner exchange could take place, and that the dialog was continuing.