For the first time since the Tripartite Contact Group started its work, and after Denis Pushilin took the lead in the unrecognized "Donetsk People's Republic" instead of the assassinated Alexander Zakharchenko, the OSCE coordinator in the TCG's humanitarian subgroup, Toni Frisch, was able to meet tete-a-tete, without participation of any third parties, with six captured Ukrainian servicemen who are illegally held in the Donetsk detention center.
The OSCE has already praised militants for such complaisance, calling it "a big step." But in fact, these changes are a symptom showing that Russia and Vladimir Putin personally do not benefit from the current state of affairs. And, since the Russian president has long been trying on himself the image of a peacekeeper whom the world fails to accept, he is now looking for the most reasonable way out of the current situation in Donbas. This is exactly why there came a change of "power" in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories. And this is why the OSCE is being shown that the new "authorities" are "negotiable."
Russia will further make similar "peacekeeping" steps toward a non-military solution of the Donbas conflict
The conflict in Donbas is becoming a burden too heavy for Russia - the country is seeing its economy dropping amid the rise of social tensions. This suggests it is likely that Russia will further make similar "peacekeeping" steps toward a non-military solution to the Donbas conflict.
To begin with, this could be about a ceasefire on the front line. And later, even the issue of full cessation of hostilities could be considered.
Undoubtedly, Putin can benefit from this only on the terms of his own. In addition, Russian analysts are positive that the issue can be resolved more effectively from within Ukraine, by investing in pro-Kremlin candidates for parliamentary and presidential elections.
However, Russia's military potential is not something to ignore. Everyone remembers fierce battles for Donetsk and Luhansk airports, where everything was destroyed but the runways. And that is why the "Vostok-2018" wargames were launched in Russia. The Russian Federation has not yet conducted drills on such a scale (if the Kremlin orders so, Moscow is able to quickly move its forces to the east of Ukraine and use them as a lever).
Anyway, now all developments will depend on official statements
Returning to the OSCE being allowed access to Ukrainian prisoners, it should be noted that such "peace-making" changes, although driven by Putin's will to push his own agenda, can still ensure an actual possibility of a prisoner swap. Since the exchange is laid down in Minsk agreements, then, albeit with minor deviations, it will not necessarily be an "all for all" scheme promoted by the Ukrainian side - but it is possible to return a significant part of our military back home.
Anyway, now all developments will depend on official statements.
Lt Gen (Rtd) Ihor Romanenko is a military expert, Candidate of Military Sciences, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor, ex-deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine