Monday, October 1, 2018

Moscow Reportedly Floats Idea to Sideline Ukraine in Talks about Release of Sentsov

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – Compounding the viciousness which has driven its Ukrainian prisoner Oleg Sentsov to go on hunger strike for 140 days, Moscow reportedly has floated a plan to release him that would sideline Ukraine from such talks and reinforce the Russian claim that the conflict in Ukraine is between Russia and the United States.

            Pavel Kanygin, a Novaya gazeta journalist, reports that a source he describes as “close to talks about the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine” says that Russia is prepared to release Sentsov if the US releases three Russian prisoners Moscow wants back – Viktor But, Konstantin Yaroshenko and Mariya Butina (

                None of the three Russians held by the US has anything to do with the Ukrainian conflict. But is being held as a illegal trafficker of weapons, Yaroshenko is in prison for drug smuggling, and Butina is being held on charges of illegally being involved in seeking to subvert US elections.

                According to his source, Kanygin continues, “Moscow is prepared to discuss such ‘a humanitarian action’ directly with Washington under the condition that Ukraine formally will not be a party to the talks. The journalist adds that a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson says she has no knowledge of such discussions.

            Moscow has pursued a similar tactic in the past. In 2017, it exchanged two Crimean Tatars with Turkey for two Russians accused of spies, Ukrainian human rights activist Mikhail Chaplyga says, thus making the Novaya gazeta story entirely plausible, however demeaning it is to Ukraine.

            But any such exchange in the Sentsov case would be doubly unfortunate however welcome his release from prison would be. On the one hand, it would sideline Ukraine, the country most directly involved, from the resolution of his fate, thus playing into Moscow’s false narrative of what is occurring in that country.

            And on the other, it would equate in the minds of many the actions of the entirely politicized Russian court system that put Sentsov and many others in jail on the basis of trumped up charges and faked evidence with the decisions of US courts where the rule of law is ensured not only by national traditions but by intense media coverage.

            Sentsov must be freed, but Ukraine must not be sidelined and US justice must not be demeaned in the process.

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