NEWS FROM UKRAINE - EUPHORIA AS SAVCHENKO RETURNS TO UKRAINE

28.05.16


UD. 28 May 2016.  By Iryna Terlecky.

Euphoria as Nadiya Savchenko returns to Ukraine. But what will she find has changed?

A day of extraordinary emotion…

These were President Poroshenko’s words following Nadiya’s return to Ukraine. And indeed it was an extraordinary day. 

There were early reports that the Presidential plane was heading for Rostov-on-Don, which fuelled speculation that a prisoner swap was close. 

The Kremlin denied all knowledge and so did Nadiya Savchenko’s lawyers. 

The Presidential administration would say nothing other than that a statement would be made later in the day. 

Nadiya’s sister and mother were photographed waiting at Borispyl airport, and suddenly, social media went wild and everyone knew that months of diplomacy had borne fruit. 

Nadiya was announced to be on board the presidential plane, and journalists followed every emotional minute of her arrival in Kyiv as the details of the negotiations started to emerge.

Kommersant newspaper reported that the exchange was agreed late on Monday during a telephone conversation between Putin, Poroshenko, Angela Merkel and François Hollande. 

Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov  - two Russian soldiers sentenced in Kyiv earlier this year who both told Reuters in interviews that they were Russian special forces soldiers who were captured while carrying out a secret operation in the rebel-held Donbas region – had earlier been flown from Kyiv to Moscow after receiving a pardon from President Poroshenko. 

In turn, Savchenko was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin before her return to Ukraine, who said he had acted after meeting relatives of the two Russian journalists, who had asked him to show mercy to Savchenko.

Nadiya took her first steps on Ukrainian soil barefoot, and later spoke at a press conference standing alongside President Poroshenko. 

She thanked her family and the people of Ukraine for supporting her while she was held in Russia.

“Ukraine has the right to be, and it will be!” she said, pledging to do everything she could to free all Ukrainian nationals still being kept prisoner in Russia and in parts of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

President Poroshenko said; “Just as we brought back Nadiya, so we will bring back the Donbas and bring back Crimea.” 

He vowed to secure the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and the “occupied territories”.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond issued a statement saying that her release from prison in Russia was welcome news. 

“This brings an end to over 22 months of illegal, politically motivated detention in Russia, during which Ms Savchenko has shown remarkable courage and resilience. 

“Russia needs to honour its commitments under the Minsk agreements, which make clear that all illegally detained persons must be released.”

Nadiya – what next?

The key issue is how – after a period of recuperation – Nadiya will carry out her responsibilities as a member of Parliament in the Tymoshenko bloc. 

It is likely that she will continue to be outspoken.  

She will undoubtedly target the Kremlin, and may also direct her outspokenness to Ukrainian politicians who are failing to create the change that people want to see. 

Although President Poroshenko was clearly pleased with her statement of support for the Minsk process, she also said that “peace is only possible through war”. 

If she decides to turn against the president, the anti-Poroshenko camp will be strengthened by what at the moment is Ukraine’s most powerful political voice.

Commentators are also busy analysing the implications of the swap for relationships between Ukraine and Russia. 

Some believe or hope that this heralds a move on Russia’s part towards détente, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU Foreign Affairs head Federica Mogherini, both of whom have expressed the view that Savchenko’s release should provide the impetus for the complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements. 

Others, however, view the timing of the swap much more cynically, coming, as it does, just ahead of a key EU vote on maintaining sanctions. 

What’s going on in the Prosecutor-General’s office

New Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko has made his first u-turn. 

Previously, he had called  the office a “graveyard”, since its top officials, allies of his discredited predecessor Viktor Shokin had not brought a single case to court against ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and his allies. 

Now, Lutsenko is saying that he will not sack those officials since he “cannot lose time to meet the demands of society” and that they (the officials) are needed to complete important investigations. 

Mustafa Nayyem, a Poroshenko Bloc deputy, told the Kyiv Post. 

“It’s a clear signal to the whole system that at this moment no decisive steps will be taken, that no purge will happen and that he will use the old cadres. Having entered the (prosecutor’s office), he has sided with the old system that he had previously criticized himself.”

“I could get a lot of likes if I fired everyone who faces enough complaints,” Lutsenko said. “But this will not be a professional step because replacing an official in charge of investigations would result in the loss of two or three months until his replacement gets acquainted with thousands of volumes of criminal cases.”

He said he would give the top prosecutors a 100-day deadline to send to court all major cases that can be submitted. 

Many remain unimpressed and believe that Lutsenko is using sticking plasters instead of implementing real reforms.

On the Eastern front

The so-called ceasefire continues to be honoured more in the breach than in the observance. 

The ATO press centre reported that Russian-backed separatists launched over 70 attacks on positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Donbas on 24 and 25 May alone, with seven Ukrainian soldiers killed and another nine wounded according to the Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov.  

“The situation in the ATO area remains difficult. The militants of pro-Russian illegal armed groups do not cease to violate the ceasefire agreement. Over the past day, the terrorists shelled the Ukrainian positions 33 times,” the report reads.

The peace process continues to be frustratingly slow, blocked at every turn by Russia and with no new ideas from the Ukrainian government or the EU on how to move forwards. 

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the Kyiv Post on 20 May that consensus has been reached on extending existing sanctions against Russia, but no further talks have been held to toughen them. 

She said that the EU remained united on the need for sanctions and that those who had predicted the collapse of its pro-Ukraine stance had been proved wrong.

However, Mogherini also said that the time has come to review the Minsk agreements, which have not brought peace, adding that a period of reflection was needed given that in spite of the February 2015 Minsk agreements, Russia has not imposed a cease-fire, withdrawn its weapons or returned border control to Ukraine, as promised. 

Moreover, Mogherini stressed that international monitors do not have access to all parts of eastern Ukraine under Russian control.

At the same press briefing, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the NATO-Russia Council is trying to schedule a meeting before the NATO Warsaw Summit in July. 

He said that NATO and its partners, including the EU, are pursuing a two-track policy with Russia, of strengthening Western defences while continuing dialogue with the Kremlin, despite its aggressive behaviour around the world.

The politics of Eurovision

The shockwaves caused by Jamala’s victory in this year’s Eurovision song contest continue to reverberate. 

The Russian government was outraged at what they called the ‘politicisation’ of Eurovision and one media discussion after another raged at the unfairness of a system which was allowed to demonise Russia so blatantly. 

One of the most bizarre pieces of reporting came from a top Russian news channel, that said Jamala’s winning song was about the sadness of those who leave their homes in search of a better life…

Crimean Tatars everywhere were jubilant and Jamala herself thanked Europe for hearing her history and the history of the Crimean people. 

President Poroshenko awarded her the title of Honoured Artist of Ukraine during a ceremony held in Kyiv.

There were also reports that an offer had been made to Jamala to rescind her ban on entering Crimea in return for her accepting Russian citizenship. 

Thoughts are now turning to the cost of staging next year’s Eurovision song contest in Kyiv, which some estimate will cost around €10 million – a huge amount of money for Ukraine’s faltering economy.  

 

As the time draws nearer, more people may ponder on the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for’.


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