Ukraine's Security Services Consider Prisoner Swap with Russia

Ukraine would consider swapping two men who claim to be Russian paratroopers it has in captivity for Ukrainian soldiers which Kiev believes are being held either by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions or in Russia, Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reports.

Russian nationals Alexander Alexandrov and Evgeny Eroveev were captured fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in Luhansk in May by fighters loyal to Kiev who subsequently turned them in to the armed forces. The two men were identified as military personnel of the Russian armed forces by Ukraine, however the Russian Ministry of Defence has repeatedly denied that the men were active servicemen during their capture, saying they had left the armed forces before going to Ukraine.

An advisor to the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU), Yuriy Tandit, visited the two men, currently recovering from injuries in a Kiev hospital, on Wednesday and told UNIAN that a possible exchange for Ukrainian captives would be considered by the SBU "if the law allows" such a scenario.

Tandit said that the two men are currently due to appear in court in September and, when asked if they could be traded without being trialed, he said "there are persons with the license to take these decisions, towards whom these questions should be directed."

"If such an opportunity arises and a decision is taken to return [the Russian soldiers] to the territory of Russia, of course we will do everything to get our own guys back," Tandit said. "We are open to all dialogue, we are fulfilling all points of the Minsk agreement," he added, referring to the ceasefire accords signed by Kiev , Russia and the separatists in Belarus in February. One of the agreement's points requires an amnesty for prisoners of war in Donetsk and Luhansk.

"The president has also made it a priority that we should return our own, who are illegally kept on the territory of the Russian Federation, as well as Donetsk and Luhansk, as quickly as we can," Tandit said.

"If the law allows that we give them over [to Russia], so we can return our own, we are going to take advantage of that," he said.

Tandit said. He added that Ukraine has a list of names of its own captives which it wants back, but he did not make the names public.

Russian state TV broadcast what it said was an interview with a woman who introduced herself as Alexandrov's wife shortly after his capture, in which she said he had ceased to work for the armed forces in December.

Alexandrov has denied this and even opened the possibility of suing the Ministry of Defence for scrapping his contract without his knowledge, telling Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta: "I was following orders. I am an acting serviceman until my contract has officially expired." He made this confession while asking for the Ukrainian prosecution to reduce the charges of terrorism levelled at him by Ukraine which he thought were unfair because he was there as military personnel and not as a member of a separatist group. "I have committed no crimes, except for illegally crossing the border," he said in June.

Russian news site reported on Tuesday that the two Russian soldiers had already been traded by Ukraine for Ukrainian captives, however the SBU quickly denied such a trade had taken place.

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