Staunton, September 14 – The swap of 35 Russian prisoners for 35 Ukrainian ones recalls the 1976 exchange between the Soviet Union and the West of Chilean communist Luis Corvalan for Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, Vadim Shtepa says. “This was an exchange between different civilizations, and probably the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has reached that level.”
In a commentary for Tallinn’s Postimees, the editor of the Region.Expert portal says that this divide was underscored by the way in which Moscow and Kyiv received the returning prisoners of the other side (leht.postimees.ee/6776828/vadim-stepa-tsivilisatsioonidevaheline-vahetuskaup and in Russian at region.expert/exchange/).
In Kyiv, Shtepa continues, the returning Ukrainians were welcomed not only by their families and friends but by the president of the country; but in Moscow, those who had come back were not given such treatment but instead hustled off in busses with darkened windows surrounded by police.
This difference is already standard operating procedure. Ukraine treats its returning soldiers as “national heroes” while Russia seeks to surround them with secrecy because according to the Kremlin’s preferred version of events, they were never there and must not be acknowledged to have been even if they are killed.
But this contrast in the way the returnees were treated is not the only indication of the civilizational divide between Russia and Ukraine. Equally important, Moscow pressed for the return of Vladimir Tsemakh, someone with knowledge of the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner, lest Kyiv turn him over to the Dutch to testify.
Such Russian insistence, of course, in effect confirmed what many now believe, that Moscow itself was behind that tragedy, and it shows that for the Russian side, covering up what happened is more important than rescuing its own citizens, Shtepa says.
Observers are still arguing about “who won from this exchange,” he continues. Russia did force Kyiv to give up a witness to a Russian crime but by so doing in effect confirmed the reality it has been trying to hide. Ukraine, however, showed that it operates according to “other and humanistic principles.”
And consequently, “Ukraine acted in this exchange as a representative of Western civilization which defends freedom and the dignity of its citizens, while Russia represented a different civilization,” one concerned about protecting its reputation and covering up its military crimes.
“Thirty years ago, in this clash of civilizations, the free world won,” Shtepa says. The question now is whether it will do so again.