Posted on Sep 08, 2019
Everybody in Ukraine, and across the world, has rejoiced in the images of the Ukrainian captives arriving home to a tumultuous welcome in Kyiv, some having endured years in Russian jails on trumped up charges.
Whilst Russian President Vladimir Putin cynically stated that the exchange would be "a huge step towards normalising relations" with Kyiv, the news demonstrates how keen he was to secure the release from a Ukrainian prison of one Volodymyr Tsemakh. He is possibly the only surviving witness, indeed participant, in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Dutch-led investigators into the atrocity have somewhat diplomatically named him as a "person of interest".
The Dutch Prime Minister and Foreign Minister contacted the Ukrainian government before the swap to tell them that sending Tsemakh (pictured left) to Russia would be prejudicial to the MH17 investigation, triggering a delay to the exchange in order to allow the Dutch Public Prosecution Service time to interrogate him again.
It is quite likely that when he undergoes a "debriefing" at the hands of the FSB/GRU, Tsemakh will wish he was still in Ukraine.
Domestically, the homecoming will be a great boost for Ukraine's new President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who hailed the exchange of captives as a "first step" towards ending the conflict in the east of the country. It is be hoped that he understands that when Putin talks about "normalising" relations with Ukraine, he means taking it back under Moscow's control.
Politically, it could never have been possible for Zelensky's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, to have countenanced such a deal.
In Brussels and Washington it needs to be understood that this event, as joyous as it is, is no reason to drop economic sanctions against Russia.
But for the Ukrainian people, all that matters at this moment is that they finally have their boys back home in the safety of their families.
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