A Kiev court has postponed the hearing that was expected to release a Russian journalist, who was accused of treason in Ukraine, casting doubt on the much anticipated prisoner swap between the neighboring states.
The issue of prisoner exchange topped the agenda during the first telephone call between Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky last week, according to Kiev. The swap could reportedly include Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, the head of RIA Novosti Ukraine, a Russia-linked news agency, and 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors, detained after they violated Russian maritime borders in the Kerch Strait last December.
Russia’s human rights ombudswoman, Tatyana Moskalkova, who was invited to the Ukrainian capital for the hearing of Vyshinsky’s case on Monday, said she was “completely disappointed” after the local court abruptly rescheduled the session for Thursday without explanation.
“I thought movement in the positive direction had begun… the foundation for dialogue had been laid” after the phone call between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders, she said.
Moskalkova guessed the court could’ve postponed the hearing due to “unprecedented [political] pressure” and that the ruling had to do with the current political struggle in Ukraine.
The country’s Prosecutor General, Yuri Lutsenko, who remains the most powerful rival to President Zelensky, already said that the exchange of Vyshinsky’s was “impossible” because he held both Russian and Ukrainian passports.
After meeting with Vyshinsky earlier in the day, Moskalkova said that the man himself rejected the idea of a swap, insisting that he should be fully acquitted. He has spent over a year in pre-trial detention and suffered a heart attack there after being arrested in Kiev and accused of treason, which may carry a term of up to 15 years, for being involved in an alleged “information war” against Ukraine.
Around 50 Russians, some of whom hold dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, were put in prison in Ukraine under various pretext after Russia’s reunification with Crimea and the breakout of the conflict in Donbass, the human rights ombudswoman said.
She also confirmed that the dual citizenship issue really was complicating the prisoner exchange as those with two passports couldn’t be extradited according to the law. Moskalkova said she was going to address the Russian Foreign Ministry and ask the diplomats to help resolve this deadlock with their Ukrainian counterparts.
Despite concerns that the court ruling on Vyshinsky may put the prisoner exchange in limbo, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said later on Monday that the discussions on the swap were ongoing between Moscow and Kiev.
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