Ukraine has asked Russia to repatriate several high-profile prisoners, raising hopes for an exchange that could free controversial detainees caught up in the confrontation between the two countries.
The Russian ministry of justice confirmed on Friday that it has received a request to repatriate four Ukrainians serving jail terms in Russian jails.
Meanwhile, it said the two countries are separately considering appeals from 13 Russians jailed in Ukraine to serve out sentences in their home country.
“The Russian and Ukrainian justice ministries are currently looking at the transfer of 13 Russian citizens, sentenced by Ukrainian courts, to serve out the rest of their sentences in Russian territory,” the ministry said.
The ministry said it would take 30 days to consider the Ukrainian request, and that any repatriation would be carried out under the 1983 convention on the transfer of sentenced prisoners.
Friday’s statement came a day after Aseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, said he had ordered justice officials to inform the families of Oleg Sentsov, Yury Soloshenko, Alexander Kolchenko, and Gennady Afanasyev, about plans to bring them home.
The four men were jailed last year on what critics say were fabricated charges of terrorism designed to punish them for being pro-Ukrainian activists.
Mr Sentsov, Mr Kolchenko, and Mr Afanasyev were arrested in their native Crimea in May 2014 and accused of organising terror attacks against pro-Russian groups in region, which had been annexed from Ukraine by Russian troops two months earlier.
They denied the charges, saying they have been prosecuted for their support of the Maidan revolutionary movement that overthrew Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, in February 2014.
Mr Sentsov, an up-and-coming film maker, and Mr Kolchenko, an anarchist political activist, received 20 and 10 years respectively.
Mr Afanasyev, who originally testified against his co-accused before withdrawing his testimony, saying it had been extracted under duress, was sentenced to seven years.
Mr Soloshenko, the 73-year old former director of a Ukrainian defence factory, was jailed for six years in October for attempting to smuggle missile components out of Russia.
Ukraine holds several high profile Russian prisoners, including Alexander Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, two self-confessed members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency who were captured in east Ukraine in May last year.
Although the prisoners in question to not include Nadia Savchenko, the Ukrainian army officer charged with murder, her lawyers have said that they hope she may eventually be released in similar deal.
Mark Feygin, a lawyer for Ms Savchenko, said it was premature to say whether there is deal forming to resolve the case of Mr Sentsov and others.
“If here is some kind of deal, however, it would obviously be a very healthy and positive thing,” he said by telephone.
“I think Nadia’s only chance of getting home would be in a political decision probably involving a similar exchange,” he added.
Lieutenant Savchenko, 34, denies murdering two Russian journalists in a battle in east Ukraine in June 2014.
A Russian court is expected to pass sentence in her case on March 20 and 21.
Miss Savchenko suspended a life-threatening “dry” hunger strike in protest at her detention after receiving a letter purporting to be from Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, on Thursday.
The letter later turned out to have been written by practical joker who had previously faked a telephone call between Elton John and Vladimir Putin.
Mr Feygin said the “prank” was actually a “provocation organised by the intelligence services,” and that Ms Savchenko had halted her hunger strike for numerous reasons unconnected to the letter.
Source: Telegraph UK