Political prisoners: history of exchanges

Following the summit in Geneva, at which a possible exchange of prisoners between Russia and the United States was discussed, the Kremlin press secretary joked that it would be possible to talk about the inclusion of Alexei Navalny in the exchange only “if it suddenly turns out that he is a US citizen and works for the American special services”.

This article is available in Polish.

It is probably worth recalling how many Soviet political prisoners gained freedom.

On the 18th of December in 1976 political prisoner Vladimir Bukovsky, who was serving a sentence under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”, was exchanged for the arrested leader of the Chilean communists, Luis Corvalan at the Zurich airport. The exchange was prepared and carried out through the mediation of the administration of US President Gerald Ford.

On April 27, 1979, there was an exchange at the New York airport of Soviet political prisoners Alexander Ginzburg, Eduard Kuznetsov, Valentin Moroz, Georgy Vins and Mark Dymshits for the USSR KGB officers Valdik Anger and Rudolf Chernyaev arrested in the USA. The exchange was prepared at the initiative of the administration of US President Jimmy Carter.

On February 11, 1986, on the Glienicke bridge between the GDR and West Berlin, the Soviet political prisoner Anatoly Sharansky (together with three citizens of Germany and Czechoslovakia) was exchanged for five agents of the special services of the Warsaw Pact countries. The issue of the release of Sharansky was personally raised by US President Ronald Reagan at a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in November 1985.

On October 5, 1986, the founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group, political prisoner Yuri Orlov, was expelled from the USSR in exchange for the employee of the Soviet mission to the UN, Gennady Zakharov, who was arrested in the United States and convicted of espionage. Orlov’s release was Reagan’s condition to attend a meeting with Gorbachev in Reykjavik a week later.

Today, according to the Memorial Human Rights Center, there are 380 political prisoners in Russia. If even a part of them will be released or exchanged, the Geneva summit can already be considered successful.

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr
Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.