Putin Says Major Russian Prisoner Swap With Ukraine Is Close

Putin Says Major Russian Prisoner Swap With Ukraine Is Close”

Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Tsemakh is on the list of prisoners that Russian Federation wants exchanged in return for freeing several Ukrainians jailed in Russian Federation, including 24 sailors captured off Crimea in November.

Last week, Dutch prosecutors urged the authorities in Ukraine not to allow Tsemakh to travel to Russian Federation, fearing this could jeopardise its investigation into Flight MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

The release of Vladimir Tsemakh, an alleged air defence specialist for pro-Russian separatists, comes amid speculation he might be part of a high-profile prisoner swap with Russia.

This is where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 came down in 2014, killing 298 people, a lot of them Dutch citizens.

The investigation team, made up of detectives and prosecutors from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, past year said that it was convinced that the Buk missile system used to shoot down flight MH17 came from a Russian army brigade. They said this could jeopardise their investigation into the downing of flight MH17.

A judge in Kiev today ruled to release Tsemakh - who was captured in June - but warned him not to try to flee.

Putin has stated that negotiations on the exchange of detainees with Ukraine will be finalized soon.

"I think (the swap) will be fairly big", he said in televised remarks, adding that it would be a "good step" to improve Russia's ties with Ukraine. Russian Federation is holding dozens of Ukrainian prisoners, including 24 sailors captured in November and the film-maker Oleh Sentsov.

People attend a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane crash near Hrabove

It is the first time Putin has spoken publicly about the prisoner swap which has been rumoured for week.

Some 13,000 people have been killed in Ukraine's war with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which broke out shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

Tsemakh's release provoked criticism in Ukraine, with some predicting there would be consequences for the attempts by Ukraine's new president to build relations with the European Union.

Sentsov, 43, has become Ukraine's most famous political prisoner.

Dutch MEP Kati Piri said demanding the exchange of Mr Tsemakh is a "strange request" which "suggests that the Russian government wants to prevent this suspect from appearing in court".

Ukrainian media have also released a leaked letter from the Dutch investigation head, Fred Westerbeke, calling Tsemakh a suspect in the downing of MH17, rather than just a witness.

The four suspects were named as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. Extraditing him to Russian Federation would complicate the criminal procedure, because Russian Federation is a party in the conflict, the Prosecutor said.

Blok said he is in close contact with Ukraine authorities.

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