Ukraine releases Russia journalist pending treason trial
August 28 2019 06:40 PM
Kyrylo Vyshynsky
Kyrylo Vyshynsky leaves the appeal court in Kiev, after he was released on condition he not leave the country and appear for his trial

AFP/Kiev

Ukraine on Wednesday released a Russian state media journalist pending his trial for "high treason", as the two countries discuss potential prisoner swaps. 
Kyrylo Vyshynsky, a journalist at Russia's RIA Novosti news agency, was released on condition that he stay in the country and appear for his trial, his lawyer Andriy Domansky told AFP.
Vyshynsky said during the televised hearing that "finally the court has taken a fair decision in my case".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that "we at the Kremlin welcome the decision."
Russia decried the Ukrainian journalist's arrest in May last year. President Vladimir Putin granted him Russian citizenship by decree in 2015.
His release on bail comes amid reports that Moscow and Kiev are preparing for prisoner exchanges as part of increased efforts to resolve their long-standing conflict.
It also comes as the election this year of President Volodymyr Zelensky has revived peace efforts and the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France are set to meet next month.
Media reports in recent weeks have suggested that the first prisoner exchange for several years could take place this month.
Vyshynsky "will be exchanged, that's why the decision was taken," a Ukrainian source close to the case told Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
Vyshynsky has been in prison since May 2018 when Ukraine's SBU security service raided RIA Novosti's Kiev offices, saying the state-funded agency and its journalists had been "used as tools in a hybrid war against Ukraine".
Vyshynsky was detained near his home in Kiev and accused of high treason.
The SBU accused Vyshynsky of travelling to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 to carry out "subversive" reporting and justify its annexation by Russia.
The 52-year-old was also accused of supporting the Russia-backed separatists who are fighting against Kiev's forces in eastern Ukraine.
Some 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict that broke out shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, a move the international community refuses to recognise.
A prisoner exchange could be a key first step in reducing tensions between Kiev and Moscow.
Zelensky, a comedian-turned-politician who swept to power on promises of change, has signalled he is ready for talks with Russia on resolving the conflict.
The Kremlin said in July that Vyshynsky's release could be a "wonderful first step" towards improving relations between the ex-Soviet neighbours that have been at daggers drawn for the last five years.
Zelensky has offered to hand Vyshynsky over to Moscow in exchange for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, who is a prisoner in a penal colony in the Russian Arctic.
Asked by AFP on Saturday if Sentsov was on the list of prisoners who could be exchanged shortly, Zelensky declined to comment.
The 43-year-old filmmaker has become Ukraine's most famous political prisoner. He was arrested in 2014 and is serving a 20-year sentence for planning "terrorist attacks" in Crimea.
Among other prisoners who could be eligible for an exchange are 24 Ukrainian sailors captured last year.
Russia has been holding the sailors since seizing their three vessels off Crimea last November, in the most dangerous direct clash between Russia and Ukraine in years.
Vyshynsky's release comes two days after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a summit on the Ukraine conflict in September, saying the conditions were right for "useful" talks.
It would be the first summit between the leaders of the four countries -- the so-called Normandy format -- since October 2015.
Zelensky won a landslide victory in April despite his political inexperience as he called for greater dialogue with Russia, in contrast with the hardline stance of predecessor Petro Poroshenko.



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