Sep 7, 2019

In "rare agreement," Russia and Ukraine swap prisoners

Ukrainian filmmaker and activist Oleg Sentsov chats with reporters after being released from Russia on Sept. 7. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

After weeks of negotiations, Russia and Ukraine exchanged 35 prisoners each on Saturday in what could be the "first step toward easing tensions between Moscow and Kiev," reports the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: Tensions between the 2 former Soviet countries have been high since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, per the WSJ. This "rare agreement" could lead to further negotiations, but some caution that the process will be lengthy and complicated.

Who was released:

  • Moscow released 24 Ukrainian sailors who had been captured by Russia near the Crimean peninsula in 2018, per the BBC.
  • Ukraine released Volodymyr Tsemakh, who is being investigated for allegedly shooting down a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine in 2014 — which killed all 298 people on board, says BBC.
  • Ukrainian officials received filmmaker and activist Oleg Sentsov, who was jailed for 20 years on allegations of plotting a terror attack in Crimea, found the BBC.

Context:

  • The Russia-Ukraine conflict has strained relations between the U.S. and other Western countries and prompting President Obama to remove Russia from the G8 following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
  • Hostility in Ukraine between troops and Moscow-backed separatists has left 13,000 people dead, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Ukraine's TV-star-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky campaigned on the release of prisoners from Russia, says the Wall Street Journal.

Go deeper...Pompeo: U.S. doesn’t recognize Crimea as part of Russia

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After Trump-Zelensky scandal, Ukraine pressed to reset Western ties

Zelensky at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine's president, political neophyte Volodymyr Zelensky, appears out of his depth after just 4 months in office, as his relations with President Trump have put him front and center in a political scandal rocking the U.S. and rippling across the globe.

Why it matters: Given the deep challenges facing Ukraine and Zelensky, Ukraine can hardly afford strained relations with the U.S. and European partners. Weakened Western ties would complicate efforts around democratic progress, economic growth and national security — particularly in pushing back against the malign influence of Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Go deeperArrowSep 27, 2019

$39M U.S. anti-tank missiles sale to Ukraine approved: Reports

Soldiers fire a Javelin anti-tank missile during a live-fire demonstration north of Melbourne, Australia, in May. Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

The $39 million U.S. sale of 150 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 2 missile launchers to Ukraine has been approved by the State Department and informally signed off by Congress, Bloomberg first reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: Ukraine is at the center of a whistleblower complaint that triggered the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The issue of U.S. military aid "played a role in initiating the impeachment inquiry," Politico notes.

Go deeperArrowOct 2, 2019

Russia could face ban from Tokyo Olympics over doping scandal

The World Anti-Doping Agency has given Russia 3 weeks to explain how multiple positive drug tests were deleted from a database during the agency's investigation into the massive doping scandal that broke in 2016.

Why it matters: If Russia doesn't comply, the country will likely be banned from next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Go deeper: The Russia doping saga rages on

Keep ReadingArrowSep 24, 2019