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Contact Group for settlement in Ukraine to discuss prisoner exchange

At the meeting in Minsk on November 29, the Contact Group reiterated preparedness of the sides for prisoner swap in Donbass

MINSK, December 5. /TASS/. Participants of the Contact Group for the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis will gather in Minsk to prepare the prisoner exchange process, Russia’s chief negotiator at the Minsk peace talks Boris Gryzlov said, adding that a particular date and procedure will be discussed.

"Hopefully, we will be able to organize prisoner exchange before the [New Year and Christmas] holidays," he said.

The self-proclaimed DRP and LRP republics have said they are ready for the exchange. Human rights ombudswoman of Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Darya Morozova said she expects the issue to be the key focus of the meeting. "We expect the Ukrainian side to have developed mechanisms of procedural purification and preparation of persons for exchange, and expect an efficient dialogue," she said.

The sides plan to release 306 supporters of self-proclaimed DPR and LPR and 74 Ukrainian security chiefs. At the last meeting of the Contact Group the sides announced readiness to do it, though they have failed to implement it as Kiev asked for some time for procedural purification of exchanged persons.

Three weeks ago, Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Choice movement and Kiev’s representative to the Contact Group’s humanitarian subgroup, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to facilitate the prisoner exchange between the parties to the Donbass conflict. According to Medvedchuk, Ukraine is ready to release 306 prisoners before the holiday season, and expects Donetsk and Lugansk to release 74 people in return. There has been no such exchanges for 14 months already.

Meanwhile, the issue is not about full release of all detained persons as stipulated by the Minsk Accords. According to Medvedchuk, after the first round of exchange "there will be 80 people left in Ukraine and 20 those who Ukraine is looking for in Lugansk and Donetsk." "I think this is going to be the second round of exchange," which will be held next year, he added.

According to the Russian chief negotiator, it is very difficult to organize prisoner exchange in the all-for-all format due to the problems with verification as the prisoners are at various stages of the procedure. "A number of persons are at various stages of the procedure: some are with verdicts delivered, some are at the stage of investigation, some are simply detained," he noted.

In his words, it took a year to verify the 380 prisoners who are to be exchanged. Nevertheless, there is a risk that the swap can be failed. "We remember how the transport blockade of Donbass started. First, it involved nationalist battalions and then these violations of the Minsk agreements were endorsed by the Ukrainian leadership. I hope there will be nothing of the kind now," Gryzlov stressed.

At its meeting in Minsk on November 29, the Contact Group reiterated preparedness of the sides for prisoner swap in Donbass.

Prisoner exchanges in the all-for-all format is one of the key provisions of the Package of Measures on the implementation of the Minsk agreements that was signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk on February 12 after marathon talks between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine.

Apart from that, the 13-point Package of Measures on implementation of the September 2014 Minsk agreements, known as Minsk-2, in particular included an agreement on cessation of fire from February 15, withdrawal of heavy armaments, as well as measures on long-term political settlement of the situation in Ukraine, including establishment of working subgroups as priority tasks.