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NEW YORK, March 29. /TASS/. There is a chance to exchange former Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, convicted last week in Russia, for Russian nationals Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who are serving their terms in American prisons, the Russians’ lawyer Alexey Tarasov told TASS.
"The initiative to exchange my clients for Ukrainian national Nadezhda Savchenko seems to me, as a representative of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, expedient, all the more so as the probability of such an exchange is well above zero," Tarasov underscored. "There are no specific details yet."
"The initiative makes sense, all the more so as appeal debates on the Yaroshenko case are close at hand, whereas the Bout case is also at the appeal stage," he said. "On both of the cases, there are prerequisites, which are reassuring."
"There are grounds to believe that, both in the case of Yaroshenko and the case of Bout, the appeals instance will reverse the sentence. Should it happen, the exchange will no longer be necessary to release my clients," Tarasov said.
He also commented on statements by a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Russia that the exchange in question is not being considered.
"It should be taken into account that he final decision in this case is made not by the U.S. Department of State, with all due respect. Bout and Yaroshenko are in prison, that is within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General," Tarasov said.
"Judging by the practice and the logic of things, the position of the Department of State, which is possibly reflected in comments by the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, is certainly taken into account, but it seems to me the decision will be made at the top," he said.
Bout was detained in 2008 in the capital of Thailand, Bangkok, on a warrant issued by a local court on a request from the United States. He was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison in the United States for alleged illegal arms supplies.
Pilot Yaroshenko was arrested in 2010 in Liberia and then taken to the United States. He was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in jail in the U.S. for allegedly intending to smuggle cocaine.
A Russian court found Savchenko guilty of the murder of two Russian journalists in Ukraine’s Lugansk Region in 2014, an attempt to kill civilians as well as border violation.
According to investigators, during combat operations near the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on June 17, 2014, Savchenko, who was an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, from the location of the Aidar battalion - a paramilitary group of Ukraine’s Interior Ministry - in the vicinity of the village of Metallist secretly adjusted artillery fire on a section of the Lugansk People’s Republic militia's roadblock with civilians, including three Russian journalists.
As a result, VGTRK journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin were killed.
Savchenko has not admitted her guilt, saying she had never killed unarmed people. However, she said she would not appeal the verdict.
The Donetsk city court of the Rostov Region on March 22 sentenced Savchenko to 22 years in a penal colony and a fine of 30,000 rubles ($450).
The sentence takes effect in 10 days unless it is appealed.