Ukraine and Russia reach deal to release Ukrainian pilot, considering to swap her with two Russian servicemen
Ukraine and Russia have reached a deal to release a jailed Ukrainian pilot, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Tuesday, suggesting that she will be swapped with two Russian servicemen jailed in Ukraine this week.
Ukrainian military pilot Nadezhda Savchenko was jailed by a Russian court in March after being convicted of the murder of two Russian journalists who died covering the pro-Moscow rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Her capture and trial became a rallying point for Ukrainians at home and abroad and she is considered as a national hero in Ukraine.
"I think we have agreed on a certain algorithm that would allow Nadezhda's release," Poroshenko said on Tuesday, the day after his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A long-mooted swap of Savchenko for the Russian prisoners appeared closer at hand after a court in Kiev on Monday convicted the two Russians of fighting alongside the rebels who took up arms against Ukraine's government in 2014.
A Ukrainian court on Monday sentenced two Russian servicemen, Sergeant Aleksander Aleksandrov and Captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev, captured in Ukrainian territory last May, to 14 years in prison on charges relating to their involvement in the pro-Russian separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The two acknowledged being Russian officers but the Russian defence ministry claimed they had resigned from active duty.
Speaking at a televised news conference in Kiev with the Danish prime minister, Poroshenko mentioned Monday's conviction of two Russian officers in Kiev, saying that the verdict "gives opportunities to launch the mechanism of a swap."
The swap could be imminent, an attorney for one of the men told the Interfax news agency that the two Russians would not lodge an appeal against the verdict.
"But I would very much ask you to avoid any speculation on this subject, about the time it will take for any return and any further steps," Poroshenko said.
Poroshenko would not say when he expected Savchenko to be returned to Ukraine but added that he told Putin that he was ready to send a presidential jet to Russia to take her home.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the two presidents talked about Savchenko as well as the two Russian officers convicted on Monday of waging a war of aggression in Ukraine.
Peskov would not respond to Poroshenko's statement when contacted by the Interfax news agency, but only said that her future was discussed during Monday's call.
The cases of the pilot and the alleged Russian soldiers have deepened the rift between Kiev and Moscow, which are already locked in a bitter feud over the Kremlin's 2014 annexation of Crimea and alleged responsibility for the war in east Ukraine that has left nearly 9,200 people dead.