Russia says preparing prisoner handover to Kiev

8th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Russia's justice ministry on Friday said it was taking preliminary steps to hand over to Kiev four Ukrainian prisoners including film-maker Oleg Sentsov.

If it goes ahead as part of an exchange, it would be the first prisoner swap between Kiev and Moscow since relations soured following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent pro-Kremlin insurgency in east Ukraine.

The justice ministry said in a statement it had asked the federal prison service "to prepare the necessary papers to resolve the question of handing over the prisoners", according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

The ministry said it asked the prison service to check whether there were any grounds to prevent a handover, while stressing the final decision must be taken by courts.

The prison service confirmed it had received the request.

Film director Sentsov, 39, was convicted of terrorism in August 2015 over arson attacks on pro-Russia political party offices in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula annexed by Moscow in March 2014, and sentenced to 20 years in a prison camp.

His alleged accomplice, environmental activist Alexander Kolchenko, who was sentenced to 10 years, is also on the list of the prisoners who could be handed to Kiev.

Ties between Moscow and Kiev are in tatters over Crimea's annexation and the insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict has killed more than 9,000 since April 2014 and left the rebels in control of a region roughly the size and population of Wales.

Ukrainian justice minister Pavlo Petrenko said on March 10 he had asked Moscow to hand over Sentsov, Kolchenko and another man convicted of acting with them, Gennady Afanasyev, as well as Yury Soloshenko, the former director of a defence factory who was convicted of espionage in a secret trial.

Russia on Friday did not name jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was convicted late March, as among those who could be handed over to Kiev.

Unless Kiev agrees a swap with Moscow, Savchenko is set to be transferred to a prison colony within the next few days to serve her 22-year sentence over the 2014 deaths of two Russian journalists in east Ukraine.

The jailing of Sentsov, who hails from Crimea and opposes its 2014 annexation by Moscow, prompted protests from international filmmakers including Pedro Almodovar, while Washington called it a "clear miscarriage of justice."

Russian senator Igor Morozov, who previously served in the foreign intelligence service, told RIA Novosti: "It's obvious that an exchange is being prepared."

He suggested Ukraine would "most likely" hand Russia two suspected Russian soldiers currently on trial in Kiev for fighting with separatist rebels in war-torn east, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov.

© 2016 AFP

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