Russians and Ukrainians meet in UAE to discuss prisoners exchange

Representatives of Russia and Ukraine have met in the United Arab Emirates to discuss the possibility of a prisoner of war swap that would be linked to the relaunch of Russian exports of ammonia, which flows to Asia and Africa through a Ukrainian pipeline, sources close to the meeting participants said.

The sources said the talks were brokered by a Gulf Arab state and did not include the UN, despite the UN’s central role in negotiating the current initiative to export agricultural products from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Ammonia is used to produce fertilizers, and the EU is dependent on Russian ammonia for the fertilizers production.

Russian ammonia 

However, these talks are aimed at removing remaining obstacles to the grain deal, extended last week by , and alleviating global food shortages by unblocking Ukrainian and Russian exports, they added.

The Reuters’ sources asked not to be named in order to freely discuss sensitive issues.

On November 17, Russian and Ukrainian representatives visited the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, where they discussed allowing Russia to resume ammonia exports in exchange for a prisoner swap that would free large numbers of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners, the sources said.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar told Reuters that “releasing our prisoners of war is part of negotiations over opening Russian ammonia exports,” adding “Of course we look for ways to do that at any opportunity.” Bodnar said he did not know whether the meeting took place in the UAE.

Will Russia unblock access for its fertilizers?

On Wednesday, Putin said Russian officials would work to unblock Russian fertilizers stuck in European ports and resume ammonia exports.

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s assistant minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, said Abu Dhabi remained committed to keeping channels of communication open, encouraging dialogue and supporting diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine.

“In times of conflict, it is our collective responsibility to leave no stone unturned to identify and pursue paths that will lead to a peaceful and swift resolution of the crises,” Nusseibeh said in a statement carried by state news agency WAM.

Asked whether the United Nations was involved in the talks, a spokesman declined to comment.

Western pressure

Russian ammonia exports will be carried out through an existing pipeline to the Black Sea.

The pipeline was designed to pump up to 2.5 million tons of ammonia a year from Russia’s Volga region to Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Pivdennyi, known in Russian as Yuzhny, near Odesa, for onward shipment to international buyers. It was closed after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on February 24.

Ammonia exports were not part of the restoration of the UN-backed grain corridor agreement that reopened commercial shipping from Ukraine.

Will there still be an agreement?

Last week, Rebecca Greenspan, secretary general of the UN agency UNCTAD, which leads the fertilizer negotiations, said she was optimistic that Russia and Ukraine could agree on terms for Russian ammonia exports through the pipeline, without giving details.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has publicly set several conditions before allowing Russia to resume ammonia exports through the pipeline, including the exchange of prisoners and the reopening of the Mykolaiv port on the Black Sea.

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