Who is Viktor Medvedchuk, the politician arrested in Ukraine that Zelensky offers to exchange for Russian “boys and girls in captivity”

Who is Viktor Medvedchuk, the politician arrested in Ukraine that Zelensky offers to exchange for Russian “boys and girls in captivity”

Handcuffed, in Ukrainian military uniform and looking tired: the image of the fugitive pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, was distributed this Tuesday by SBU, the Ukrainian national security agency, after his alleged capture in a “special operation”.

The pro-Russian Ukrainian politician is a controversial figure in Ukraine for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Considered Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine , Medvedchuk was placed under house arrest in the capital, Kiev, on suspicion of high treason, but escaped shortly after Russia invaded the country on February 24.

The 67-year-old oligarch and leader of the pro-Russian Ukrainian Opposition Platform – For Life party denies any wrongdoing.

In a video to the nation released Tuesday night, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky offered to trade Medvedchuk for “Ukrainian boys and girls who are now in Russian captivity.”

Shortly before issuing that message, Zelensky had posted on Facebook that the pro-Russian politician was arrested thanks to a “special operation” of the Ukrainian intelligence services.

The SBU said in a statement that Medvedchuk “worked for the aggressor state (Russia) for years”, was “hiding from justice” and was wearing a “Ukrainian military uniform for camouflage”.

“But will it help you escape punishment? Not at all. The shackles await you and traitors to Ukraine like you,” the intelligence agency note reads.

Russia responded on Tuesday that it was verifying information about Medvedchuk’s alleged arrest.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said they had to check the arrest because “now there are so many fakes coming from Ukraine” that “everything has to be checked.”

But who is Viktor Medvedchuk and why is his arrest significant?

Putin: “We are not close, but we know each other well”

As a wealthy businessman with close ties to the Russian leader, Medvedchuk was for years tolerated in Ukrainian political circles, seen as an important channel of communication with the Kremlin .

It also played an important role as an intermediary with the Russian-backed separatists who took over the eastern Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

He has been regularly photographed alongside Putin on various occasions , from a Formula One race in Sochi – Russia’s largest tourist city, close to the Georgian border – to political and martial arts events.

He has also received the Russian leader at his villa on the Crimean peninsula, the Ukrainian region of Donbas that Russia annexed in 2014.

However, despite the fact that the Russian president said in 2019 that they had met from time to time, he denied that the link was close.

“I wouldn’t say we’re very close, but we know each other well ,” the Russian president told US filmmaker Oliver Stone.

What was Medvedchuk accused of?

In 2014, the United States imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk, accusing him of undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.

This year, Washington accused two members of his party of helping Russia undermine the leadership of the Ukrainian government.

One of those parliamentarians was Taras Kozak, a deputy from the Belarusian People’s Party.

Kozak owns three TV channels – Zika, 112 Ukraine and Newsone – which Ukrainian officials controversially shut down last year amid accusations they broadcast “Russian disinformation.”

Medvedchuk was closely related to those three television outlets.

The two men are said to have made millions by buying a 42% stake in a Russian oil refinery in the mining town of Novoshakhtinsk, on the Ukrainian border, for well below fair value.

Medvedchuk later bought a majority stake in that refinery in the name of his wife, TV star Oksana Marchenko , to avoid US sanctions.

In May 2021, Viktor Medvedchuk was charged with treason and placed under house arrest.

The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine imposed sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife. His accounts were frozen and the television channels linked to the politician were closed.

Medvedchuk was subsequently indicted on various counts.

Among them, helping Russia -after the annexation of Crimea in 2014- in the exploration of oil and gas deposits in the Black Sea, registering companies on the peninsula under Russian law. He was also accused of passing secret information to Russia.

In addition, he was accused of trying to buy coal from mines in areas of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists to finance the Donbas rebels, which Medvedchuk also denied.

The pro-Russian politician has repeatedly described Ukraine’s accusations against him as “political repression” .

When he escaped from house arrest in late February, his lawyer, Larysa Cherednichenko, said he had faced death threats from “radical nationalist groups” and sought a safe haven in Kiev.

His party, Ukraine’s largest opposition group in parliament , was one of 11 suspended last month on security grounds due to alleged links to Russia.

Moscow condemned the move as a mistake by President Zelensky that would divide the country.

In a recent interview with BBC News Ukraine, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said Ukraine had been “working hard” to bring Medvedchuk to justice.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.