Wednesday

6th Jul 2022

Savchenko release to revive peace process, EU hopes

  • Savchenko became a national hero in Ukraine (Photo: Reuters)

The EU and the US have voiced hope that the release by Russia of a Ukrainian prisoner will help the two sides to implement a peace accord.

“I hope and wish that today’s successful exchange will be a contribution to building trust between Ukraine and Russia and so can also give a positive impulse to the Minsk process,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday (25 May) after the prisoner, Nadiya Savchenko, returned to Kiev.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • EU ministers hold up Savchenko pictures as part of long-running campaign to free her (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

French president Francois Hollande called it a “significant gesture towards implementation of the Minsk agreements”.

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, encouraged “all parties to build on these positive steps” and to “release all hostages and detained persons related to the conflict”.

US secretary of state John Kerry called the release “an important part of fulfilling Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements”.

But he added that the Minsk ceasefire accord, negotiated last year by France and Germany with Russia and Ukraine, also includes “a real, comprehensive, and sustained ceasefire in eastern Ukraine”, “the withdrawal of foreign forces and equipment; and the return to Ukraine of full control over its international border.”

Savchenko, a helicopter pilot, was captured by pro-Russia fighters in Ukraine in 2014, taken to Russia, and sentenced to 22 years in prison in a trial that failed to meet basic standards, according to the EU.

Russia said she crossed the border to plot terrorist attacks and had earlier helped to kill two Russian journalists.

President Vladimir Putin pardoned her on grounds the journalists’ families had asked him for clemency. He said on TV, alongside the reporters’ relatives, that he hoped their “humanism” would “lead to an easing of the tension” in Ukraine.

He swapped her for two men - Evgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov - that Ukraine said are Russian military intelligence officers that it had captured on its territory. Putin, who claims not to have troops in Ukraine, did not mention them in his TV spot.

'We’ll take back Donbas'

Savchenko arrived in Kiev on Wednesday on Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko's plane and received a hero’s greeting.

“I cannot bring back the ones who died. But I’m ready to put my life on the battlefield for Ukraine one more time”, she told the crowd. Poroshenko said, referring to two Russia-occupied regions: “This is just the beginning. As we took back Nadiya, we’ll take back Donbas, we’ll take back Crimea”.

The release came after a turbulent week in Russia-Ukraine relations.

On Monday, German, French, Russian and Ukrainian leaders held a phone conference on the ceasefire. But on Tuesday, shelling by pro-Russia forces killed seven Ukrainian soldiers - the highest death toll in a single day since the start of the year.

Savchenko’s lawyer, Mark Feygin, had earlier told EUobserver that Russian negotiators had asked for EU and US sanctions relief in return for her release.

Leading EU states and the US are likely to discuss the state of play on sanctions at the G7 summit in Japan on Thursday and Friday. But Mogherini, last week, already said that EU economic sanctions are likely to be extended in July due to Russian non-compliance.

Part of the Minsk accord also obliges Ukraine to devolve power to Russia-occupied territories in east Ukraine after holding local elections.

But Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s new deputy PM in charge of EU relations, told press in Brussels on Wednesday that these are unlikely to happen before the end of the summer.

“When I can go there [to campaign] freely, and take with me some observers from the European Parliament, and take you [journalists], and I don’t mean war correspondents, then it’s probably the time when elections can be held,” she said.

No Donbas elections for now

“I don’t think this will be by the end of summer”.

Speaking prior to Savchenko’s release, she said issues such as corruption and political infighting in Kiev have nothing to do with the Minsk process or Western sanctions.

She noted that Ukrainian people would be “disillusioned” with Europe if it did not grant Ukraine visa-free travel given that Kiev has fulfilled EU demands.

She said they would be even more disillusioned if the Netherlands blocked full ratification of an EU-Ukraine trade pact on the grounds that Dutch people voted against it in a non-binding referendum.

Klympush-Tsintsadze said her talks with Dutch ministers indicated that one solution would be for the Netherlands to ratify the text but to suspend implementation of the bilateral, Dutch-Ukrainian clauses that it contained, which amount to a small fraction of the agreement.

Opinion

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey signs Nato protocol despite Sweden extradition row
  2. European gas production hit by Norway strike
  3. EU Commission told to step up fight against CAP fraud
  4. Ukraine needs €719bn to rebuild, says PM
  5. Germany records first monthly trade deficit since 1991
  6. Pilots from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden strike
  7. Report: EU to sign hydrogen deal with Namibia
  8. Israel and Poland to mend relations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. 'World is watching', as MEPs vote on green finance rules
  2. Turkey sends mixed signals on Sweden's entry into Nato
  3. EU Parliament sued over secrecy on Nazi MEP expenses
  4. Italy glacier tragedy has 'everything to do' with climate change
  5. The Digital Services Act — a case-study in keeping public in dark
  6. Report slams German opposition to new child sexual abuse rules
  7. Is China a challenge to Nato? Beijing responds
  8. ECB announces major green shift in corporate bond-buying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us