Ukraine, Russia agree to prisoner exchange

2016-04-19 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has agreed to a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the release of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko who is serving a 22-year jail sentence in Russia. The presidents of Russia and Ukrainia had a telephone conversation over the fate of jailed high-profile prisoners, raising the possibility of a swap. The call came after Ukraine jailed two alleged Russian special forces soldiers for several crimes including terrorism.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov were accused of involvement in Ukraine's conflict with pro-Russian rebels in the east. That's why a court in Kiev sentenced the two Russian citizens to 14 years in prison each on charges of fighting for allegedly waging "an aggressive war" alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

They were also found quilty of committing a terrorist act and using weapons to provoke an armed conflict.

Russia has always denied sending troops to eastern Ukraine and said the men were volunteers who had left active service.

FATE DISCUSSED

Yet shortly after the sentencing Monday the Kremlin said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed by phone the "fate" of the two Russians as well as Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko, who Russia imprisoned on murder charges.

While the Kremlin did not explicitly mentioned it, observers expect the Kiev court's verdict against the Russians to open the door for a prisoner exchange. Poroshenko has previously proposed swapping Savchenko -- who is a national hero and has denied the charges against her -- for the Russians.

The Kremlin said the two leaders agreed that Moscow would "soon" allow Ukraine's consul-general in Rostov-on-Don to visit Savchenko in prison. Poroshenko's office afterward said the Ukrainian leader urged Moscow to "immediately" free Savchenko.

Citing her deteriorating health, he also urged Putin to allow Ukrainian and German doctors to examine her.

Tensions remain however between Moscow and Ukraine over Kiev's moves towards the West, including military cooperation.

Last month Ukraine and Britain, for instance, signed an agreement under which both nations will share information on potential threats, participate in joint exercises while the British military will also train Ukrainian forces.  

(from Vatican Radio)