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Ukrainian Court Sentences Two Russians On Terrorism Charges, Setting Up Possible Prisoner Swap

April 18, 2016

A Ukrainian court has sentenced two Russian citizens to 14 years in prison each on charges of fighting alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sentencing on April 18 of Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev opens the door for a potential prisoner exchange with Moscow for a Ukrainian pilot whose prosecution by a Russian court has been closely watched in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The Holosiiv District Court in Kyiv found the two men guilty of conducting terrorist acts and aggressive military activities and sentenced them the same day.

The two, who pleaded not guilty, retracted video confessions made earlier in which they admitted they were active-duty Russian military personnel when they were captured in the Ukraine's Luhansk region in May 2015. Both said the statements were made under duress.

Russia has said neither Yerofeyev nor Aleksandrov were employed by the military when they were captured by a volunteer Ukrainian militia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied that it has provided weapons, training, and personnel to support separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine. Independent observers, journalists, and official monitors, however, have gathered a substantial body of evidence to the contrary.

Many observers believe the sentencing of Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov paves the way for them, and possibly others, to be exchanged for Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian military pilot who was recently sentenced by a Russian military court to more than 20 years in prison.

The court in Russia's Rostov region last month found her complicit in the deaths of two Russian journalists covering fighting in eastern Ukraine in June 2014.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said prior to the decision that he would be willing to make a prisoner exchange with Russia to secure Savchenko's release. At the time the Kremlin didn't reject the possibility, but said no decision would be made before Savchenko's verdict.

At least 11 other Ukrainians, including filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, have been prosecuted in Russian courts related to Russia's forcible annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Moscow has signaled that it might also consider releasing them as part of a possible prisoner swap.

An uneasy truce in the two-year-old conflict has held since a ceasefire was negotiated in February 2015, although international observers have recorded an uptick in fighting in recent months.

More than 9,100 people have been killed in the fighting, and some 21,000 wounded.

With reporting by Interfax, AP, Reuters.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-russian- soldiers-guilty-waging-war/27681865.html

Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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