16 May 2018 21:42

Russian envoy backs idea of captive swap in Donbas in '157 for 20' format

MINSK. May 16 (Interfax) - Moscow believes the time is right for another prisoner exchange between Kyiv and Donbas.

"The Russian delegation has stated that today, every condition needed to proceed with an exchange of all the detained people who have been identified and whose identities have been confirmed by the conflicting parties is in place. These are 157 people detained by Ukrainian security and military forces and 20 people detained in Donbas," Boris Gryzlov, Russia's envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) on Ukraine, said.

"Those detained by Ukraine include people who were permanently residing in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions when the conflict began, Russian nationals with Ukrainian permanent residence permits," Gryzlov said.

"Unfortunately, in defiance of the Minsk Agreements provisions stipulating an all-for-all exchange, the Ukrainian side continues shying away from such an exchange, citing some far-fetched pretexts," he said.

However, Gryzlov is concerned by the escalation of the military situation along the contact line and by Kyiv's unwillingness to discuss granting a special status to Donbas. Ukraine is "freezing" the conflict, he said.

"The Ukrainian side's unwillingness to discuss in detail, in the political subgroup, a mechanism for implementing the enactment of a special status for Donbas indicates one thing: in acting thus, Ukraine is freezing the conflict indefinitely," Gryzlov said.

"The Contact Group keeps security issues in the center of its attention," he said.

"Regrettably, the situation in this sphere is degrading. Several serious violations of the existing ceasefire regime took place over the past few days. In particular, the Ukrainian Armed Forces attacked the residential sector of Zaitseve, the outskirts of Donetsk, where several houses were damaged, and the area of the Donetsk Filtering Station [DFS]," Gryzlov said.

The disengagement of forces near Stanytsia Luhanska planned for May 8 has once again collapsed, he said.

"Moreover, the Ukrainian side has effectively renounced its obligations on disengaging forces and equipment, deployed troops to disengagement areas near the residential localities of Zolote and Petrivske, and developed fortifications and placed arms there, which is mentioned in the OSCE SMM reports. The Russian delegation has called on the Ukrainian party to the conflict to demonstrate its desire to meet obligations," Gryzlov said.

The Russian delegation also proposed strengthening international monitoring around the DFS, he said.

"What requires special attention is the situation surrounding the facility of key importance. That's the DFS. We have proposed that the OSCE step up monitoring of the situation surrounding it and carry out monitoring night and day. We have also proposed returning to the issue of disengaging forces by the conflicting parties near the DFS, clearly demarcating the borders of the terrain," Gryzlov said.

The Russian delegation believes that once Kyiv shows the necessary political will, the conflict might be settled by peaceful means; the conflict's political settlement remain the Contact Group's top priority, he said.

"We believe that once there is political will on the part of Ukraine, it will be possible to take effective measures swiftly to address all security issues, normalize economic ties, and solve important humanitarian problems, [including] the release of detained people, and eventually resolve the political confrontation on the basis of the Minsk Agreements. Ukraine needs to begin taking the steps that are clearly and unequivocally described in the Minsk Agreements by granting, using legislative means, a special status to Donbas that would take effect under the Steinmeier formula," Gryzlov said.

First Vice-Speaker of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada and representative to the TCG's humanitarian subgroup, Iryna Herashchenko, for her part, said following the subgroup's and the TCG's recent work in Minsk that there had been no progress with regard to the release of hostages or the search for people gone missing in Donbas.

"There is no progress whatsoever with regard to the release of hostages and the search for the missing. This causes great concern, especially given the latest disturbing news about the worsening health condition of our political prisoners and hostages, Oleh Sentsov's hunger strike, and the prolonged hunger strike of Volodymyr Balukh," she wrote on Facebook on Wednesday

Herashchenko wrote that the possibility of handing over 23 Russian citizens in exchange for "Ukrainian political prisoners and hostages" was raised in Minsk.

"There has still been no response from the Russians on the 23 Russian citizens convicted of crimes against the Ukrainian state, whom we are ready to hand over to the Russian Federation if our political prisoners and hostages are released," she said. Russia does not care very much about those it left behind in Donetsk, she wrote.

In Herashchenko's view, the hostage issue requires the entire world to put pressure on Russia.

During Wednesday's TCG meeting in Minsk, the Ukrainian side warned Russia against plans to organize any elections in the part of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions that Kyiv does not control. "We clearly stated that if the Russian Federation holds any kind of 'elections' on the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas, those elections will be void and have no legal effect. And the responsibility for it should rest with the Russian Federation," Herashchenko wrote.

The acting foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), Natalya Nikonorova, said that the conflicting parties failed to start a constructive dialogue at the political subgroup meeting on Wednesday.

"Without solutions to political issues, which are the key to bringing about peace in the region, other sections of the Minsk Agreements cannot bring a long-term, sustainable result. We once again call on Ukraine [...] to promptly start discussing the most important issues on the agenda, especially ones regarding an agreement on the Steinmeier formula and an amnesty, issues on which there was no constructive dialogue today," Nikonorova said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics proposed to Ukraine to conduct a prisoner exchange under the "157 for 20" formula, Victoria Talakina, spokesperson for DPR chief negotiator Denis Pushilin, wrote on Facebook.