Bargaing for Sentsov: Can film director be swapped for three Russians held in U.S.
The main condition for the return to Ukraine of Oleh Sentsov is the extradition of Russia of its nationals arrested and/or convicted in the United States. This is about the two convicts Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, as well as Maria Butina, who has been placed under arrest pending the investigation. Such information was released by Russia's reputable Novaya Gazeta newspaper, with reference to its own sources, allegedly close to the negotiations on the prisoner exchange.
Can we generally trust the report that Russia has put forward such a request and believe Novaya Gazeta referring to its own sources? I personally cannot verify this information in any way because there is no reference even to the area where they obtained these data. However, sometimes "own sources" means something really serious. Novaya Gazeta did not seem to have sinned with fake spins. Therefore, I'm saying as it is: I just don't know. But I think that they do have a certain source. It's just interesting for me to find out their level.
If it was about Russia probing ground, it could have been so that initially, the version was quietly thrown out to the media as an alleged leak instead of being officially announced to the Americans. And from that moment on, they've been looking into such a scenario.
At the same time, I don't even doubt the fact that the report was launched on the part of Russian special services, the official Kremlin.
The main condition for the return to Ukraine of Oleh Sentsov is the extradition of Russia of its nationals arrested and/or convicted in the United States
Novaya Gazeta is a credible outlet, but I suggest that in reality this may not be the information about the actual offer to the United States but rather a spin, to make sure that such offer is voiced.
Had such a demand been put forward before Kyiv, and had it been in Ukrainian prisons where the Russians were held, we would have still go for such an exchange, having expressed our indignation over Russia's requests and appetites, all for the sake of having Oleh Sentsov released from the Russian prison.
However, the United States does a slightly different math.
Are Americans altogether ready to go for any exchanges related to Sentsov? I believe they do. The U.S. is well aware what Russia is, and what is Ukraine. They are aware of the fact that there is an ongoing war on the territory of Ukraine. For some reason Americans understand this even better than Europeans. Among the latter, the majority still thinks that there is an internal conflict in Ukraine. Instead, in America, people realize that the conflict is anything but internal.
However, in the United States, it's only a narrow circle of representatives of the higher political elites who dig into details. Perhaps, there are fewer than a dozen people who are familiar with the situation in Ukraine at such a level as Kurt Volker. Therefore, it will be very difficult to convince ordinary Americans of the need for such a political move.
Are Americans altogether ready to go for any exchanges related to Sentsov? I believe they do. The U.S. is well aware what Russia is, and what is Ukraine. They are aware of the fact that there is an ongoing war on the territory of Ukraine
The second problem is that it is about the three Russian criminals held by the United States. Americans, as a rule, do not practice unequal exchange. For them, the standard is an equal swap. The Russians are well aware that they will not even be able to discuss with America any other option, except 1:1.
Thirdly, America is being offered to release people who have been identified as those who have committed crimes against the United States. It doesn't matter that Bout sold weapons not directly to some commandos who killed American soldiers. Anyway, he set up an illicit arms trade, which is perceived in the United States as a threat to national security. They consider the illegal arms market as follows: sooner or later these weapons will shoot at Americans.
Therefore, it will be difficult to convince the States that they have to give out someone they long sought, caught, and finally detained. After all, the Americans understand perfectly well: if they give this man to Russia, he will not be held in jail for crimes committed, although his acts fall under the Russian criminal code as well. Moreover, that man will once again have the opportunity, if not directly to travel across the world and organize illegal arms deals, then at least to remain the coordinator of such actions, with all his connections and contacts.
The second problem is that it is about the three Russian criminals held by the United States
The American establishment knows very well who Bout is, and that his sentencing was a real milestone. Therefore, Americans are yet to be convinced that the exchange of such an offender for Oleh Sentsov (whom they don't know in their overwhelming majority) is justified...
In general, I have the impression that Russia, amid constant international pressure on the Sentsov case, realizing that the filmmaker might die in prison, starts looking into negotiation options. But so far, they are putting forward conditions that just can't be met. Perhaps this is being done deliberately - to demand more in order to get at least part of it – at least, to have Mr Bout swapped. But so far all this looks very far from implementation.
Taras Chornovil is a political analyst, former MP of Ukraine