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Opinion

Opinion: Release of Nadiya Savchenko just a small happy end for Russia and Ukraine

The exchange of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko for two Russian soldiers is good news. However, it does not signal a turning point in the war in Donbass, writes DW's Bernd Johann.

Nadiya Savchenko has been released, bringing to an end her terrible ordeal. For almost two years, she was detained in Russia after she had most likely been abducted from Donbass and taken to Russia. She was given a 22-year prison sentence in a scandalous trial that had no legal basis.

Now, she is finally returning to her home country. The political tug of war also ended favorably for the Russian soldiers Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, who were also captured in fighting in Donbass. In Ukraine, they were tried on terrorism charges. They also faced long prison sentences after having been found guilty by a court in Kyiv.

There are still far too many victims

There are finally some positive political developments between Russia and Ukraine. This is the first really good piece of news this year with regard to the political deadlock in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. High-profile prisoners have finally been exchanged. But the war in Donbass is still far from any political solution, despite all the international mediation efforts that Germany and France in particular have sought to advance. And again this week, people have died in Russia's undeclared war on Ukraine.

The war has cost over 9,000 lives so far, mostly civilian. Hundreds of people are still being held as prisoners of war. For months now, negotiations within the Trilateral Contact Group on their release have not broken the impasse. The release of Savchenko and the two Russians still cannot divert from the great number of people being held hostage in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The most famous Ukrainian prisoner in a Russian prison is Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov. Like Savchenko, he had been convicted in a show trial by a Russian court. When will he and other prisoners finally be released?

Savchenko and the two Russians illustrate how human lives are squeezed and shattered by national interests. Their release still does not mark a turning point; it was already overdo for humanitarian reasons. But they were tokens in a political deal, the scope of which may not yet be fully known. Yerofeyev and Alexandrov were probably working on a secret mission for Russian military intelligence (GRU) in Donbass; that is why the Kremlin never officially stood behind the two men.

New hope for peace talks?

To this day, Moscow has denied any responsibility for the war. A real turning point will not be possible until the Kremlin's leaders take responsibility for their undeclared war on Ukraine. And only then will it make sense for the West to reconsider its sanctions against Moscow. The release of the military pilot Savchenko is not more than perhaps a small indication that the Kremlin would like to remove some political obstacles.

And what about Ukraine? For most Ukrainians, Savchenko is a heroine who has bravely defended their homeland against Russian aggressors. For months, her picture has been hanging on the speaker's desk of Ukraine's parliament. For Petro Poroshenko, her release is an important political victory that he desperately needs now, two years after his election as president of Ukraine. But it does not prove that he is finally ready to fully support the Minsk peace agreements that are so unpopular in his country.

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