Prisoner exchange a success - what comes next?

Moscow and Kiev exchanged 35 prisoners from each side on Saturday, fuelling speculation about the next steps in a Russian-Ukrainian rapprochement. According to media reports a Normandy format summit meeting (with France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) could take place before the end of September and breathe new life into the Ukraine peace process. Europe's press looks at the background to the developments.

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Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Warmongers have yet to be tamed

A peace process would face major obstacles on both sides, warns Radio Kommersant FM:

“Every new day of this dismal confrontation makes you feel that this war is something strange that should have been ended long ago. Especially since both Kiev and Moscow are moving verbally towards peace negotiations according to the Steinmeier formula [in the Normandy format]. But are they also in principle prepared to hold free elections under OSCE control in this 'independent' territory? And would that really work? How is Ukraine's patriotic elite responding to the need to vote on a special status for Donbass? What will the Russian 'war party' do if it boils down to closing our border with the Donetsk and Lugansk regions?”

Diena (LT) /

Western Europe suffering from amnesia

Western Europe's desire for dialogue with Moscow is a source of concern for

“The way the prisoner exchange is viewed by some Western European countries, especially France, is worrying. The foreign minister of France has already said that the time has come to reduce the tensions between the West and Russia. ... However, this does not seem to be the right time for a thaw, but rather for a reminder sent to our amnesiac ally that the prisoners of war still held in Russia are just the tip of the iceberg. Three-quarters of the problem is in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.” (PL) /

Donbass too costly for the Kremlin

Russia wants influence without having to pay for it, writes

“Russia doesn't want to finance Donbass anymore, it costs too much. The Kremlin prefers to let the Ukrainians carry the burden while at the same time keeping control of the occupied areas. This is the background to the idea that the region should be returned to Ukraine but be given special status and extensive autonomy. Kiev doesn't want to go along with this. But Putin is trying to get the European capitals, in particular Berlin and Paris, to back his plan so they put pressure on President Zelensky.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Macron's strategies are bearing fruit

Macron is playing a decisive role in the rapprochement between Moscow and Kiev, writes foreign policy commentator Paolo Valentino in Corriere della Sera:

“The French president not only welcomed Vladimir Putin to [his residence] Brégançon on the eve of the G7 summit, he's also invited him to the next Peace Forum in November. What's more, he promised he'd attend the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II on the Red Square next May. France was also one of the most convincing advocates of Russia's return to the Council of Europe. Putin appreciated this - as the exchange of prisoners between Moscow and Kiev shows. It paved the way for a new attempt at reviving the peace process in Ukraine.”

Iswestija (RU) /

Kiev must negotiate directly with the separatists

The pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia calls on Kiev to negotiate directly with the two separatist republics in Donbass:

“The success of this first stage not only opens the way for further exchanges of prisoners according to the motto 'all in exchange for all'. It also allows the practical application of the 'Minsk measures' aimed at paving the way for a long-awaited solution to the domestic conflict in Donbass. But this formula also contains the almost insurmountable obstacle to ensuring stable and lasting peace in Ukraine. Kiev still stubbornly refuses to recognise the obvious, namely the domestic character of the conflict in southeastern Ukraine. Yet Russia, together with the European participants of the Normandy format, insists on direct negotiations between the leaders in Ukraine and Donbass.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Moscow's indirect admission of guilt

It speaks volumes that a man suspected of being involved in the downing of the passenger plane MH17 was released in the prisoner exchange, De Volkskrant points out:

“In principle Moscow's demand that Volodymyr Tsemach be extradited to Russia amounts to an indirect admission of guilt in the MH17 tragedy. Because why should Russia want Tsemach 'back' when he's not even a Russian citizen but a Ukrainian? The answer is obvious: Putin is scared that Tsemach could be obliged to appear before a Dutch judge. Because even now the burden of proof is enormous.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Zelensky a poor negotiator

Kiev has paid a high price, Deutschlandfunk concludes:

“Above all as regards one individual in particular: Vladimir Tsemakh. The Ukrainian Intelligence Service arrested him in June in a special operation on separatist territory. Tsemakh is a suspect in a key criminal trial and is suspected of having played a role in the shooting down of a passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. ... Also critical is the case of the seamen. After the ruling of the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Russia was threatened with international sanctions. So for Moscow it was very convenient to get rid of these prisoners right now. ... No one will dispute that the release of prisoners is a success for Ukraine. But what's also clear is that the new Ukrainian President Zelensky negotiated a poor deal.”

Obosrewatel (UA) /

A courageous decision

In a brief commentary Mikhail Brodsky, editor-in-chief of website Obozrevatel, welcomes the move:

“My thoughts on yesterday's exchange: firstly: it had to be done. Many thanks to Zelensky for his courageous decision (saving one life is to save the whole world). Secondly: the exchange is unequal (we released murderers and villains and got simple and innocent people in return). Thirdly: why should I care about the Netherlands? Fourthly: they probably tricked us, but so what.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Putin's first step towards his goal

Commenting on Echo of Moscow the radio station's editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov sees the exchange as a key moment in relations between the two countries:

“Putin is aiming for the gradual lifting of the sanctions that were imposed on Russia because of Donbass. ... This would only be possible if the Normandy process that is linked to the Minsk Protocol is launched. But for that to happen the prisoners first had to be released. That was the condition Macron set at his meeting with Putin on 19 August. ... Now that this has been done we can expect a meeting between the leaders of the four countries Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany to take place in September. ... And this could prove to be a historic event.”

La Croix (FR) /

Cynicism devoid of political significance

We mustn't overrate the significance of the swap, La Croix warns:

“An exchange of prisoners is a cynical barter transaction practically devoid of political significance. The swap that took place on Sunday between Kiev and Moscow is no exception. Naturally the return of political prisoners and others, most of whom were victims of arbitrary treatment, is a cause for celebration. This is a success for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But it's too early to see it as a step towards a political solution for the conflict that has pitched Ukraine against separatists supported by a strong neighbour in the Donbass region.”