Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to “bring back” Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. His statement was made as European officials welcomed Russia’s pardoning of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko.
On Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Savchenko who was found guilty by a Russian court of murdering Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin near Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, in June 2014 and of illegally crossing the Russian border.
Putin told the Russian journalists' relatives that his decision to pardon Savchenko was first and foremost motivated by“humanitarian considerations,” and he hoped such a move would “lead to a de-escalation of the confrontation in a certain conflict zone.”
Savchenko was swapped for two Russian citizens jailed in Ukraine on terrorism c-harges which they had denied. Her pardon sparked a wave of positive comments f-rom European top officials including German Foreign Minister Frank-Wal-ter Steinmeier, French President Francois Hollande, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland.
France and Germany are members of the so-called Normandy Four group which has been holding regular meetings on the Ukraine conflict since June 2014. Francois Hollande welcomed the swap “in accordance with the commitments made during the phone conversation in [the] Normandy format [on]May 23,” the statement f-rom the Elysee Palace said.
“This is a significant move for the implementation of the Minsk agreements,” Hollande added. German Foreign Minister Frank-Wal-ter Steinmeier also hopes that the “exchange will contribute to building confidence between Ukraine and Russia and thereby give a positive impulse to the Minsk process.”
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni praised Savchenko’s pardon, saying that Italy “fully supports the work of [the] Normandy Four” which aims to achieve the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. He added that the move is a positive development between Russia and Ukraine.
However, during a ceremony featuring Petro Poroshenko and Nadezhda Savchenko, who arrived in Kiev on Wednesday, the Ukrainian President said that he hoped to regain control over Crimea and Ukraine’s rebellious southeast as well.
“Just as we brought back Nadezhda [Savchenko], so we will bring back Donbass [the eastern Ukrainian regions] and Crimea under Ukrainian sovereignty,” Poroshenko said.
Poroshenko also thanked the leaders of the countries which he called a “pro-Ukrainian” coalition for “their active participation and support.” He mentioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, US President Barack Obama, leaders f-rom the EU (Poland, Lithuania, UK, Spain, Italy) “who took a joint decision to apply sanctions against Russia,” as well as Australia and Japan.
As for the newly-released Savchenko, she said that peace is possible only via war.
“I don't want people to want war, I want people to want peace, unfortunately peace has to come out of war,” the Ukrainian pilot said, adding that she is “ready to die for Ukraine at any moment.”
Speaking to the journalists at the airport, Savchenko said that she is ready to “once again give my life for Ukraine on the battlefield.”
Kiev launched a military operation against rebels in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions in April 2014. The coup in Kiev two months earlier brought to power a western-leaning government containing many nationalists which caused discontent and resistance in the southeastern parts of the country, populated with ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers. The operation resulted in a full-scale military conflict and rebels attempted to break away to form two self-proclaimed republics in Lugansk and Donetsk.
As for Crimea, in March 2014 at least 97 percent of its residents voted for rejoining Russia in a referendum after rejecting a coup-imposed government that took power in Kiev in February 2014 and seeing the example of Kiev’s military crackdown on the dissenting eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The move sparked an international controversy, as the new government’s western backers accused Russia of annexing the peninsula and imposed economic sanctions against Moscow.
The Minsk agreements reached in February 2015 to bring peace to eastern Ukraine stipulated a full ceasefire, heavy weapons withdrawal f-rom the line of contact in eastern Ukraine and an all-for-all prisoner exchange – leading to local elections and constitutional reforms, which would give a special status to Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Moscow has reiterated many times that it is not party to the Minsk agreement as it concerns an internal Ukrainian conflict.
The fulfillment of the Minsk agreements by Poroshenko is yet another issue. The deal stipulates that the Donbass region should elections under Ukrainian law. However, the process has been repeatedly slowed down.
According to political analyst Aleksandar Pavic, “Savchenko has been used as a rallying point in Ukraine, as a national hero, as a martyr."
“She was also used against Russia as pressure by many western states and institutions including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as she is an elected member of parliament in Ukraine as well as the Council of Europe.”
Jonathan Steele, a Guardian columnist, said that Savchenko’s actions after her release bordered on the theatrical.
“She wanted to get some publicity…and get some glory over her release,” he told RT.