The official stance of the Russian Federation and its secret services has been voiced by “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” spokesperson Darya Morozova: the RF has no intent to fulfill any agreements on the exchange.

Russian speakers stated the exchange was impossible even earlier. Half a year ago a formula ‘228 for 48’ was agreed — Ukraine releases militants in exchange for our prisoners. After several months of talks on the issue, in December, Russia denies the agreed formula and brings in new conditions — 700 for 48. Yesterday, it was corrected again — 527 for 48. Why did they break the agreement? Obviously, Russia sets forth new conditions in order not to abide by the old ones.

Why? Because the Russian Federation is interested in having Ukrainian hostages, and Russian secret services want to continue manipulating the captives’ families and conduct cyber warfare.

Russia doesn’t care about mercenaries — they knew what they were up to, and no one gave them any guarantees. On the other hand, Ukrainian prisoners are a very interesting resource for the secret services, because this issue is very public in Ukraine. The delivery of prisoners is the only issue Ukrainian authorities negotiate on with puppets Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, presented by the Russian Federation as ‘representatives of separate areas in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.’ Every captive Ukrainian is valuable currency for our enemy, another leverage to influence Ukrainian politics.

Who exactly participates in the talks? Do we need civil volunteers for that now?

Since the war started, the talks have been conducted by those controlling the ‘exchange fund.’

In 2014 and early 2015, when active combat was in place and Russian gangs were capturing people, the key role in the exchange was played by civil volunteers. They were individuals who assumed all risks and responsibility. Some Ukrainians have been bought back for large amounts of money. I once heard Korban [former chief of staff of the Dnipropetrovsk regional state administration during Kolomoiskyi’s tenure – ed.] agreeing with Bezler [terrorist leader – ed.] on exchange of people for several playgrounds in Horlivka, the Donetsk region. Volodymyr Ruban [ civil volunteer – ed.] crossed the front line regularly and often brought back people with them, simply in exchange for relations with the terrorist leaders. This is true, and we can’t forget or disrespect these dangerous efforts. Militants have been always concerned with their legalization in any forms in Ukraine, and prisoners swap allowed them to be a party in the talks and ask for something even beyond the swaps. So we needed people to handle this, unofficially, without involving the state.

Now the time of swaps by individuals has gone. No more active combat is taking place; prisoners are taken extremely rarely; no more ‘exchange funds’ for field commanders, just the unified system of Russian military command. The exchange talks are held at the level of presidents of Ukraine and Russia, just like in Savchenko’s case. The field of talks has changed as well. The exchange circle drafted by Russia now includes not only terrorists who fought against Ukraine, but also criminals who have nothing to do with the war but are imprisoned or tried in Ukraine.

Ukraine, in turn, has included all of its citizens held hostages not only in the Donbas, but in the Russian Federation as well. Up to 40 of our people are currently in Russian prisons. Many Ukrainian citizens have been kidnapped and held in Donbas basements of Russian secret forces, although having nothing to do with combat activities…

This is why the swap can and should only be handled by the state, which has the lists and is able to leverage the outcome. Russia talks to no one except for President Poroshenko.

Militants are always willing to talk with Savchenko, but Zakharchenko [“DPR” terrorist leader – ed.] always says he only speaks with Poroshenko on the prisoners.

Is it possible to exchange ‘all for all’ as stipulated by the Minsk agreements?

Problem #1. All-for-all exchange means there is a confirmed list. The lists haven’t been confirmed yet. Ukraine’s representatives believe Russian militants are keeping 58 Ukrainian hostages alive in the Donbas, plus 40 people who have been detained in the Russian Federation. In addition, it’s hard to know whether there are more captives in the Donbas — we can’t check if the enemy keeps other missing Ukrainian citizens. Russia is saying it will exchange 48 people held in the Donbas, and no one from the Russian prisons. All-for-all exchange is not possible under such conditions. It’s an exchange of a group of people for another group of people.

Problem #2. The negotiators in Minsk have agreed exchanging 228 terrorists and mercenaries for 48 our captives. As a goodwill gesture, Ukraine transferred 15 persons convicted of cooperation with the enemy. Despite this gesture, the agreement on the exchange was unilaterally broken by the Russian side. The list suddenly got bigger; many more people who are being tried in Ukraine have been included in it. Exchanging ‘527 for 48’ means releasing everyone Russia is interested in from Ukrainian prisons. At the same time Russia is not even looking at the issue of releasing hostages from its prisons.

Problem #3. Russia, apparently, is not interested in releasing people from prisons and returning them home. It’s interested in the game itself, in having leverages over public opinion in Ukraine. This is why conditions of the exchange get amended all the time.

Problem #4. Russia continues capturing citizens of Ukraine who have nothing to do with the war. They are being charged with absurd charges to cover up for kidnapping and torture.

Do these provocations prove that Russia is going to end the war and release the prisoners? No. They prove that the enemy simply seizes anyone and doesn’t care about proving the Ukrainians’ guilt.

What will Savchenko’s publication of the lists help achieving?

Unfortunately, nothing. This was stated by Russians right away.

The public reaction and expectations are high, and results are null. Russia wants no new procedures or words, just the continuation of the game.

Ukraine is attempting to avoid making this 48-person list sound as if these are all our prisoners. No, it’s just an exchange of a group of 48 our citizens, not ‘all-for-all.’ No one knows exactly how many more people are held hostages there. Plus, this number does not include Ukrainian prisoners in the Russian Federation.

What can make Putin order to exchange the prisoners?

It’s nearly impossible to advance the process of prisoners’ swap with diplomatic efforts only. But these efforts should continue, they definitely should, because we still manage to rescue someone from time to time. Eventually, we will manage to get all of them out, when the political situation in the world changes.

The exchange of Russian Major Starkov shows that the enemy is willing to exchange military experts in first place, who discredit the Russian army by being held captive. The only way to speed up the exchange is to capture Russian officers. This is definitely not a panacea or a solution, but this does speed up the talks.

Other options are being dismissed by the militants. And they break any agreements easily. The Russian Federation speaks only the language of force and direct influence.

Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET