Minsk talks of July 2: Will Ukrainian prisoners come home soon?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

A regular meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group (TCG) takes place on July 2 in Minsk
08:28, 2 July 2019

A regular meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group (TCG) takes place on July 2 in Minsk. The previous meeting in the Belarus capital, unfortunately, ended in nothing. However, the Ukrainian TCG representative, Leonid Kuchma, noted that our opponent has a desire to engage the hostages, which means that there is hope that the issue will be agreed soon. A few days ago, four Ukrainians — Dmytro Velyky, Yakiv Veremeychyk, Eduard Mikheev, and Maksym Goryainov — have already been released from captivity by the efforts of Viktor Meredchuk, chairman of the political council of the Opposition Platform – For - Life Party. But, according to the data that the Security Service of Ukraine published in the spring, fifty more servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now in captivity. In total, more than 3.2 thousand people were liberated in the five years of the war.


Related: Four Ukrainian prisoners arrive in Kyiv

What does Kuchma say

Commenting on the recent negotiations of the TCG, which took place on June 19, Leonid Kuchma stated the following: “As for the hostages, we have discussed this issue, but after such a long break, I can’t say that we’ll move forward tomorrow. I had the opportunity to conduct private negotiations with those on whom it depends to some extent, and there is a desire to start this process because the whole world is looking at it." So, in general, Leonid Kuchma is optimistic.

“The proposal was made by Mr. Kuchma, and this was supported by participants from ORDLO (occupied Donbas and Luhansk, - ed.). This will be considered by the economic subgroup next time,” OSCE Representative Martin Sajdik commented. Presidential spokeswoman Yulia Mendel wrote on her Facebook page that "the relevant restrictions, step by step, can be lifted only in response to the gradual return to the Ukrainian legal field."

Later, Kuchma explained that, in his conviction, there was no blockade. “There is no economic blockade. Read the decision of the Council of National Security and Defense, and then Poroshenko’s decree. This is a temporary ban on the movement of goods across the collision line. What is the blockade? We know well that hundreds, thousands of people cross control points. A person might carry 50 kg of luggage."

At the same time, Kuchma adds, the issue of cargoes is very worrying for the militants. But not only them alone. "This issue is topical for Ukraine, because the Ukrainian side, especially the business that existed there, wants to return what belonged to them."

But these are just expectations. In general, the Ukrainian TCG representative has arrived in Minsk with a “road map” from President Zelensky, but Kuchma did not specify the details. Like, so far this information is not public. The only thing that is known is that one of the main accents of the negotiations will be placed on Ukrainian prisoners.

Related: Security Service to interview four Ukrainian prisoners released from so-called “LDNR”

The withdrawal of troops: capitulation..?

Last Wednesday, Ukrainian military were withdrawn from positions near Stanytsia Luhanska. The separatists did the same thing, at least so said the Joint Forces Operation headquarters stated that. This is the first stage of the withdrawal, and Leonid Kuchma arrived to control it.

“I want to stress once again that I am authorized by the President [to represent Ukraine] in the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. So I did not come here to resolve issues instead of the Cabinet of Ministers or instead of the President. Therefore, my task is to look how those decisions, including for the withdrawal of forces, are being implemented," Kuchma said.

Meanwhile, objectively speaking, now only one thing takes place - the realization of Zelensky’s promise to reanimate the Minsk process. And it provides, in particular, the withdrawal of troops. Attempts to divert them from the Stanytsia Luhanska failed in 2015, and in 2016. The experience of this year is supposedly more successful. However, in the future, everything will depend on the actions of the Russian side.

Military experts remind that there was an agreement at one time that if there were no cease-fire violations during the week, then the parties should withdraw their forces, weapons, and military equipment. And for the first time in recent years, a week lull has covered Stanytsia Luhanska. Thus, the prerequisites for such a procedure have arisen. But nobody can predict this what will happen next.

Related: Mother of Ukraine's political prisoner Kolchenko's visited her son in Russian colony

Incident with a diplomatic note of MIA head Klimkin

Especially when the problem is not only about the negotiations between Ukraine, Russia, and the militants, but also within the state. Last week, a separate incident provoked the note of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Early last week, the PACE returned the Russian delegation to the assembly in exchange for the release of the captured Ukrainian sailors.

 On November 25, 2018, Russian border guards seized the Ukrainian Yana Kapu raid tug and small armored artillery boats Berdyansk and Nikopol of the Naval Forces of Ukraine in the Kerch Strait area, using weapons.

As a result of the incident, 24 Ukrainian sailors were detained and arrested. They were transported from Crimea to the Moscow Lefortovo detention facility. In addition, three Ukrainian sailors wounded during the shelling by the Russians were transferred to the Prison Hospital.

 This was the unwritten plan agreed upon by the leaders of Russia, France, and Germany, but the Russian Foreign Ministry knew nothing about it.

Related: Zelensky's Office accuses ex-President Poroshenko of Russia's return to PACE

The latter, meanwhile, was following another process - the course of whether Russia is fulfilling the verdict of the UN tribunal on the law of the sea, which obliged Moscow to return Ukrainians back home. A note came from the Kremlin, outrageous and unacceptable in the sense that Russia offered to give our citizens to Ukraine, but under certain conditions.

This is how head of the Foreign Ministry Klimkin described the note: "Russia a) requires us to admit that our sailors could commit a crime, b) inclines us to recognize the legitimacy of the judicial process over them under Russian law, c) invites us to accept Russian criminal procedure code, and indirectly recognize the occupation of Crimea."

As President Zelensky noted, he learned about the actions of the Foreign Ministry from the Internet. But he had known about the plan developed behind Ukraine’s back but had informed him about this retroactively.

Obviously, the leaders of European countries who took part in the development of such a plan did not care how Russia intends to implement it.

What's next?

Zelensky is now being blamed for the fact that because of his foreign policy Russia returned to PACE. Although this demarche had been prepared for a long time, even before the new president took formal office.

Related: Macron to visit Russia on Victory Day in 2020

In any case, MP Groysman supported the head of state, noting that the Foreign Ministry should coordinate the steps with the president. Kurt Volker, the special envoy of the US State Department for Ukraine, categorically disapproved the Russian scheme. According to Volker, the Russian “proposal” to Ukraine to take part in criminal proceedings against sailors was a disregard for justice, because there were no grounds for detaining them. This is also a disregard for the UN and Ukrainian sovereignty, he is convinced.

Klimkin’s sharp note made it impossible to "play with legal wording." “Therefore, the president is outraged, and he is right,” experts believe.  Therefore, it is difficult to predict future events. But there is one encouraging moment here. Russian President Putin said at a press conference following the G 20 summit, which took place the other day in Japan: “We have questions about some people who are detained in Ukraine,” he said. In fact, Putin hinted that our captured sailors could be exchanged for the arrested Russians.

At the G 20 summit, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that Putin hold a Norman Four meeting of the in July. It is likely that the head of the Russian Federation will want to demonstrate to European leaders the ability to negotiate and at least occasionally keep his word, which means that the prisoners will have a chance for liberation.

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