by Elpidio R. Estioko
Few weeks ago, I thought the only way we can end the Russia-Ukraine war was for either party to surrender or do a graceful withdrawal.
Unless there is a surrender of either party or a graceful withdrawal from the Russia-Ukraine war, the war is going to be endless, perhaps even longer than the Vietnam War.
Russia can carry on the war in all levels because of its super military arsenal and Ukraine likewise, with the continued support of its allies principally from the US, can also sustain the war for as long as it takes. So, how do we end the war?
With the release of WNBA superstar Britney Griner, who was convicted and detained in Russia for possession of drugs, after months of negotiations, I thought we can use her case as a model in ending the war.
As I See It, using the concept of prisoner exchanges, will make it possible. How do we do it? If Russia and Ukraine release all Prisoners of War (POWs) in their respective countries, this will be a graceful exit to end the war.
Of course, this will take time for negotiations by Ukraine and Russia as displayed by President Joe Biden and his administration, in the case of Griner, which took them for almost five months. The negotiating strategy was broached in July when Griner sent a handwritten letter to Biden saying she was afraid she’d be detained indefinitely and pleading with him not to forget her.
Just days later, after contemplating to use the exchange of prisoners, Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly expressed frustration that Russian counterparts were refusing to engage with what he called a “substantial offer.”
It became clear the Russians wanted a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout – a notorious arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence in US prison. In Russia he is referred to simply as a businessman, known to have carried out risky aviation trips to dangerous places.
It’s not clear whether he had connections to Russian intelligence but both Russian and US experts agree that he must have known quite a lot, which is why the Kremlin wanted him back.
Griner was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.
After the Biden administration negotiated her release from a Russian penal colony in exchange for an arm dealer Viktor Bout, Griner was freed on Dec. 8.
“She is safe, she is on a plane, she is on her way home. She will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along,” Biden said in remarks from the White House few weeks ago.
Biden added: “I’m proud that today we have made one more family whole,” adding that he will continue to work to free Whelan. “We’ll keep negotiating for Paul’s relief. I guarantee it.”
As far as a I recall, Griner’s release is the second publicly known U.S. prisoner swap with Russia since the war in Ukraine started. American Trevor Reed was released in April after spending nearly three years in a Russian jail.
The former Marine was freed in a prisoner exchange that saw Biden commute the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving time in Connecticut who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the U.S. in 2010.
Recently, Russia and Ukraine had swapped 50 service personnel according to Russia’s Defense Ministry and Ukraine’s head of presidential administration.
Ukraine’s presidential administration head Andriy Yermak said that the exchanges of prisoners of war would continue “until the liberation of the last Ukrainian.”
Meanwhile, Russia said they will fly its released prisoners to Moscow for medical checks and rehabilitation.
How many Prisoners of War (POWs) are we talking about here? Over the past several months, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has interviewed 159 prisoners of war (139 men and 20 women) who were held by the Russian Federation (including by affiliated armed groups), and 175 prisoners of war (all men) held by Ukraine.
The mission reported many human rights violations by both camps in treating their own POWs which are against international laws. These were documented by the mission which may serve as a basis for further actions.
So, swapping of prisoners by Russia and the US are possible and have been done by the two countries.
If we must elevate the practice in the current Russia-Ukraine war, perhaps we will be able to come up with a deal after a series of negotiations to satisfy both camps. i.e., swapping of all POWs between Russia and Ukraine.
Should this happen, the Russia-Ukraine war will end in due time, in a win-win situation– the Griner way!
ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at email@example.com.
by Elpidio R. Estioko