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The long-awaited prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine by the 35-for-35 formula took place on Saturday, September 7. While meeting the prisoners at the Kiev Boryspil airport, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said he had carried out this intention along with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Finally, a politician seems to have appeared in Kiev who can soberly look at things and start a dialogue with Moscow to normalize bilateral relations.
Both Russia and Ukraine have long been waiting for this event, which, thanks to Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova's ability, is already referred to as "historical". The exchange the presidents of the two countries agreed on, was being carefully prepared, and until the last moment it was unclear when and how it would take place. Moreover, a number of media sources reported the action was at risk of failure. And yet, September 7 witnessed the exchange take place finally.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the mutual release of Russian and Ukrainian citizens a result of political will and consistent hard work. In her Facebook comments, the diplomat noted that the process took place despite provocations and unbiased difficulties, urging the parties to maintain such a mindset to solve other issues as well. In turn, head of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev said that the prisoner swap was the first step towards transiting from confrontation to dialogue between Moscow and Kiev.
Throughout the world, reaction to Moscow and Kiev's exchange of prisoners has been generally positive. Thus, US President Donald Trump believes that the September 7 exchange between Russia and Ukraine can be the first big step towards peace. "Russia and Ukraine just swapped large numbers of prisoners. Very good news, perhaps a first giant step to peace. Congratulations to both countries!", the American leader posted on Twitter. In turn, United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker supposed that the exchange would "build momentum for further prisoner exchanges, renewed ceasefire, and progress toward full Minsk implementation".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also welcomed the exchange of prisoners between the two countries. She considers it Ukraine's first step towards normal relations with Russia, calling the exchange a hopeful signal. "It makes sense to continue to work in full force on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The German government is ready for this," she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has praised the exchange of prisoners either. In his view, this event represents a "decisive step in resuming a constructive dialogue" to be continued in the near future. The French Foreign Ministry welcomed the mutual release of Russians and Ukrainians. "It is about a gesture showing the will of Russia and Ukraine to resume the dialogue. It has served to restore an atmosphere of trust between the parties to the Normandy format negotiations. Populations can now hope for an end to the five-year conflict, which continues to make dozens of victims each month," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated.
The European Union has also responded to the exchange of prisoners. In particular, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini is hopeful that successes achieved by Moscow and Kiev will form the basis for further action in the context of bilateral cooperation.
Certainly, one cannot but welcome the positive reaction of the West to the exchange of prisoners. However, it should be noted that there is hardly anything Germany and France, being Normandy format participants, have done to settle the conflict in southeastern Ukraine over the years. Too bad, because Berlin and Paris could have had a significant impact on Kiev in managing this issue.
It remains to be seen whether the exchange will mark the beginning of normal relations between Moscow and Kiev. This hope dwells within our hearts. Especially given the fact that the very day of the exchange, presidents of the two countries Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zelensky had a telephone conversation with positive comments on this action, noting that it could improve ties between the neighboring states. The heads of Russia and Ukraine also discussed preparations for the Normandy format meeting. The Russian leader stressed at the same time the need to keep preparing for the ultimately effective summit in this format.