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Moscow welcomes prisoner swap between Kiev and Donbass — diplomat

Russia urges Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass to continue work towards prisoners’ release

MOSCOW, December 28./TASS/. Moscow welcomes the prisoner swap between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass on December 27, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told TASS on Thursday.

The diplomat said the prisoner swap on Wednesday was the biggest since the start of the conflict in Ukraine. "Kiev and representatives of Donbass put into practice their agreement as a result of which more than 300 people have been freed, of whom over 230 returned to Donetsk and Lugansk and more than 70 - to Kiev," Karasin said.

"We cannot but welcome this exchange," he stressed. "It has become a major humanitarian move towards the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine. Let me note that the previous exchange took place more than 14 months ago," he said.

"Of course, yesterday’s events came as a result of difficult negotiations between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk," he said. "At a certain stage, Vladimir Putin gave an additional boost to this process, supporting the initiative on carrying out such an exchange ahead of the New Year holidays following an appeal from Ukraine’s representative [in the humanitarian subgroup of the Contact Group] Viktor Medvedchuk," Karasin added. "Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill also took an active part in the search for a compromise," he added.

Kiev changed the formula

The diplomat reiterated that fewer people had been released than the earlier coordinated ‘306 for 74’. "It should be noted that Donbass demonstrated flexibility and good will in this issue," the diplomat stressed.

"Apart from its humanitarian aspect, the exchange that has taken place also shows the ability of Kiev and Donbass to find mutually acceptable solutions," the diplomat said. "It is now important to see that the sides don’t lose momentum and continue working towards the release of all the detained persons under the ‘all for all’ formula, as well as towards the implementation of other trajectories of the Minsk agreements," he added.

Kiev and the Donbass republics conducted a prisoner exchange on Wednesday, the biggest since the outbreak of the conflict. The swap took place at the contact line near Gorlovka. Kiev released 233 prisoners and the Donbass republics - 73.

Both sides stressed that overall prisoner exchange is not completely over at this stage and pledged to spare no effort to have all the prisoners return home in 2018. According to the human rights ombudswoman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Darya Morozova, at the next meeting of the Contact Group on January 18 DPR’s negotiators will insist Kiev release 76 more prisoners at the second stage. Earlier she told TASS Kiev had confirmed its keeping 58 people the DPR wanted to have back home.

In mid-November, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Choice public movement and Kiev’s representative to the humanitarian subgroup of the Contact Group, who asked the Russian leader to support his initiative concerning the prisoner swap. He said Ukraine was ready to release 306 people and expected Donetsk and Lugansk to release 74 people before the New Year holidays.

Later, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Putin had spoken over the phone with the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics who supported the idea in general.