MOSCOW – Russia and Ukraine have exchanged four prisoners in a move coordinated by their governments. The swap follows last month's release of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko after two years in a Russian prison. Savchenko was swapped for two Russians convicted of fighting in eastern Ukraine. In Tuesday's exchange, Russia's President Vladimir Putin pardoned Gennady Afanasyev, who was convicted on charges of sabotage, and Yuri Soloshenko, convicted on espionage charges. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko welcomed them in Kiev after their return.
Russia and Ukraine traded blame for the confrontation that raised the specter of a full-blown conflict between the neighbors. Ukraine said its vessels were heading to the Sea of Azov in line with international maritime rules, while Russia charged that they had failed to obtain permission to pass through the narrow Kerch Strait that is spanned by a bridge that Russia completed this year.
Anti-government protests in Ukraine culminated in President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country in February 2014 to Russia. Later that year, Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and Russian-speaking separatists in the country's east launched protests that escalated into a war that has killed more than 9,600 people.