Ukraine, Russia-Backed Separatists Swap 200 Prisoners in Wake of Normandy Four Summit in Paris
The prisoner swap with the self-proclaimed republics in Donbass follows a swap between Ukraine and Russia itself back in September.
Ukraine and the authorities of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the eastern part of the country exchanged on Sunday a total of 200 prisoners as per an agreement reached between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris earlier this month.
The December 2019 summit in Paris, including the leaders of Ukraine and Russia as well as those of Germany and France, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, was the first meeting in three years under the so called Normandy Format, and a first for the new Ukranian President Zelensky.
The “all for all” prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists in Donbass took place on Sunday at a checkpoint near Horlivka in the Donetsk region, France24 reported.
The Ukrainian Presidency announced that Ukraine received 76 captives, while the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics took in a total of 124 people.
The Normandy Format meetings have been designed to restore peace in Eastern Ukraine, after the eruption of a pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass back in 2014.
The Donbass insurgency broke out in the months after Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in February – March 2014.
More than 13,000 people have been killed in the war in Donbass in Eastern Ukraine so far, according to UN data, while millions have been displaced.
The previous prisoner exchange between Kiev and the separatists was in December 2017, when Ukraine handed over about 300 captives and took back around 70.
However, in September 2019, there was also a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia itself, swapping a total of 35 each, with the latter releasing Ukrainian sailors detained during a clash in waters off Crimea last year as well as Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.
Sunday’s prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Russia-back separatists in Donbass was welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in a joint statement.
“In the run-up to the New Year and Orthodox Christmas celebrations, today’s exchange is a long–awaited humanitarian gesture that should help to restore trust between both sides,” the leaders said in the statement, as cited by DW.
Merkel and Macron also acknowledged that “further work will be needed” in order to exchange all those who have been detained in relation to the conflict.
“We are all waiting for this,” the Ukrainian leader said on Saturday describing the exchange as “the most difficult task this year.”
Zelensky remains criticized domestically for a plan to grant special status to Donbass as per the Minsk II Agreement drafted by the Normandy Four in 2015 to help end the five-year conflict there, with critics worrying such an arrangement would give Moscow a direct lever for interference with Ukraine’s affairs.
Nonetheless, the Normandy Summit in Paris in December, and the prisoner exchanges have been seen as positive, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has described his new Ukrainian counterpart as “likable”.
The prisoner exchange between Kiev and the Russia-backed separatists in Donbass also occurred against the backdrop of the signing of a new five-year contract for the transit of Russian natural gas through Ukraine, which was brokered with the help of the EU.
(Banner image: Ukrainian Presidency)