Ukrainian President's Office Proposes Sentsov, Vyshinsky Prisoner Swap
By RFE/RL July 19, 2019
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office has proposed a prisoner exchange with Russia involving Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is jailed in Russia, and Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who is in detention in Ukraine.
The proposal came after Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed by telephone a possible prisoner swap on July 11.
Zelenskiy's press secretary, Yulia Mendel, announced the proposal on Facebook late on July 18, hours after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged Kyiv to release Vyshinsky as a first step toward the normalization of relations between the two who remain on shaky footing over five years of hostilities since Russia annexed Crimea and with Russia-backed separatists still holding swaths of eastern Ukraine.
Vyshinsky, the head of the office of Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency in Ukraine, was arrested in May 2018 on treason charges and faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
A Kyiv court on July 19 extended his pretrial custody by two months, to September 19.
Vyshinksky's arrest came amid accusations in Kyiv that RIA Novosti-Ukraine was participating in a "hybrid information war" waged by Russia against Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said Vyshinsky, who at the moment of his arrest had dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, received financial support from Russia via other media companies registered in Ukraine in order to disguise links between RIA Novosti Ukraine and Russian state media giant Rossia Segodnya.
They also said he was receiving some 53,000 euros (about $60,000) a month from Russian sources for his work and that the money was sent to him through Serbia.
According to the SBU, Vyshinsky was preparing reports at Moscow's request that sought to justify the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula by Russia in 2014.
Weeks after his arrest, Vyshinsky announced that he had given up his Ukrainian citizenship, called his arrest a "political order," and suggested that he was arrested in order to use him in a swap with Moscow for a Ukrainian being held in Russia.
Sentsov, a Crimean native who opposed Russia's 2014 takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula, was arrested by the Moscow-imposed Crimean authorities in May 2014 and charged with planning the firebombing of pro-Russia organizations in Crimea.
A Russian court convicted him on multiple terrorism charges in August 2015 and sentenced him to 20 years in a maximum-security prison.
Human rights activists and Western governments have called on Russian authorities to release the film director, saying his arrest and trial were politically motivated.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian and Russian officials have been talking about a possible swap of all Russians and Ukrainians held in the two countries.
Tensions between Moscow and Kyiv have risen sharply since Russia seized Crimea and threw its support behind separatists in eastern Ukraine, helping start a war that has killed some 13,000 people.
With reporting by Ukrinform
Copyright (c) 2019. 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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