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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Who is Viktor Medvedchuk and why his arrest is a big deal

by Oleg SukhovApril 13, 2022 6:04 pm
Photos published by the Security Service of Ukraine show pro-Kremlin lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk after being captured on April 12, 2022. Suspected of treason, Medvedchuk fled from house arrest in February. (Security Service of Ukraine/Getty Images)

On April 12, the Security Service of Ukraine captured the country’s most high-profile pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who had fled from house arrest in February after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested exchanging Medvedchuk for Ukrainians held in Russian captivity. 

Commenting on Zelensky's offer, the Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Medvedchuk is not a citizen of Russia, and the Kremlin does not know whether he wants Russia to interfere in his situation.

Who is Medvechuk? 

Medvedchuk is a member of the Ukrainian parliament and a co-leader of the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform - For Life party, whose activities were banned in March as a result of the Russian invasion. 

Medvedchuk is Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man in Ukraine. 

Since the early 2000s, Mevdedchuk has enjoyed close relations with Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and prime minister of Russia. 

In 2004, Putin and Medvedev’s wife became the godparents of Medvedchuk’s daughter, and they were filmed meeting at the Medvedchuk’s Simeiz residence in Crimea in 2012.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with a Ukrainian pro-Kremlin lawmaker and his crony Viktor Medvedchuk in Saint Petersburg, Russia on July 18, 2019. (AFP via Getty Images)

What is Medvedchuk’s ideology? 

Medvedchuk has advocated for closer ties with Russia for decades. 

In 2012, Medvedchuk founded the Ukrainian Choice group, which supports transforming Ukraine into a federation, making Russian the second state language and joining the Russian-led Customs Union.

Medvedchuk’s idea of “federalization” is seen as beneficial for Russia because Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions may fall into Russia’s orbit if they are given autonomy or sovereign status.

The co-founder of the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform - For Life party, lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk attends a parliamentary session at the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on Aug. 29, 2019. (Getty Images)

Has Medvedchuk gotten along with Ukrainian authorities? 

Medvedchuk has enjoyed good relations with most Ukrainian presidents, including former President Petro Poroshenko, and with Yulia Tymoshenko when she was prime minister. 

Thanks to his ties to the authorities since the 1990s, he has managed to build a business empire. He has been accused of rent-seeking and profiteering from his ties to the government.

Medvedchuk’s fortunes changed after Zelensky was elected president in 2019. The National Security and Defense Council imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk and his ally Taras Kozak in February 2021. The council also blocked three TV channels officially owned by Kozak but believed to be actually owned by Medvedchuk, which he denies.

What are the charges against Medvedchuk? 

Medvedchuk and Kozak were charged with high treason in May 2021. They were suspected of colluding with the Russian government to extract natural resources in Russian-annexed Crimea.

In October 2021, Medvedchuk was also charged with treason in a separate case. The case concerns the organization of coal supplies to Ukraine’s state-owned enterprises from Russian-occupied areas in the Donbas in 2014-2015. Medvedchuk allegedly held negotiations with Russia and its proxies, as well as with the Poroshenko administration, on the coal supplies, according to the investigators.

Medvedchuk denies all the accusations.

Oleg Sukhov
Oleg Sukhov
Political reporter

Oleg Sukhov is a political reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He is a former editor and reporter at the Moscow Times. He has a master's degree in history from the Moscow State University. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 due to the crackdown on independent media in Russia and covered war, corruption, reforms and law enforcement for the Kyiv Post.

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