Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Russia, has been moved to Moscow before a possible prisoner swap, according to Russian news agencies and Ukrainian members of parliament.
Sentsov, who lived in Crimea and opposed its annexation by Moscow, was convicted in 2015 for plotting and carrying out attacks there in a controversial case.
The 43-year-old, who denied the charges and said his conviction was politically motivated, was sent to an Arctic penal colony despite a global campaign for his freedom.
Russian news agencies TASS and Interfax on Thursday cited sources saying that Sentsov had been transferred to Russia’s capital.
“He was brought to Moscow in the framework of an exchange process,” a source told Interfax.
Ukrainian MP Akhtem Chiygoz, who is from Crimea, told local media that the swap could happen on Friday but everything was still “speculation”.
“Oleg Sentsov is in Lefortovo,” he said, referring to a secretive prison in Moscow run by the security services.
Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze wrote on Facebook that he had no information about the move, and Russia’s prisons service (FSIN) could not be reached for comment.
Asked to confirm the swap, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said merely that “contacts are being made” regarding a general exchange between Russian and Ukrainian prisoners.
“We’ll tell you when we are ready,” he told journalists.
A high-profile swap between Russia and Ukraine has been discussed for days.
Ukraine on Wednesday released Russian state media journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky pending his treason trial, a few weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed to exchange him for Sentsov.
The filmmaker last year went on a hunger strike, refusing solid food for 145 days and sparking fears for his life, but ended it to avoid being force-fed.
Some 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, a move the international community refuses to recognise.
A prisoner exchange could be a key first step in reducing tensions between Kiev and Moscow.