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Indicting Putin’s ally Ukraine charges pro-Kremlin oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk with high treason

Source: Meduza
Alexey Nikolsky / Kremlin Press Service / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

On May 12, pro-Kremlin oligarch and lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk turned up at the Kyiv Prosecutor General’s Office for questioning. The day before, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General charged him with high treason, along with his associate, lawmaker Taras Kozak. A personal friend of Vladimir Putin (who is allegedly godfather to the Ukrainian oligarch’s youngest daughter), Medvedchuk, together with Kozak, stands accused of colluding with the Russian government to extract natural resources in Crimea, handing over classified information, and planning to create an “influence network” for conducting subversive activities in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities imposed sanctions on both Medvedchuk and Kozak earlier this year for alleged involvement in financing terrorism.

On Tuesday, May 11, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General charged pro-Russian oligarch and lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk with high treason, along with his associate, lawmaker Taras Kozak. That same day, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) raided Medvedchuk’s home in Kyiv and the office of Opposition Platform – For Life, the pro-Russian political party he belongs to. The SBU stated on Tuesday that while Kozak is in Russia, Medvedchuk was in Ukraine, though his exact whereabouts were unknown. Medvedchuk turned up at the Kyiv Prosecutor General’s Office for questioning on May 12.

The case against Medvedchuk and Kozak involves three incidents. The first concerns alleged attempts to steal natural resources from the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 (according to Ukrainian investigators, in 2015, the suspects in the case colluded with a Russian government official to extract natural resources from the Black Sea shelf). The second has to do with passing state secrets to the Russian intelligence services (in 2020, Medvedchuk allegedly provided Kozak with classified information about the deployment of Ukrainian military units. Kozak was in Russia at the time). And the third concerns “anti-Ukrainian activities” (Medvedchuk stands accused of planning to create an “influence network” using Ukrainian labor migrants working in Russia).  

Earlier this year, the Ukrainian authorities imposed sanctions on both Medvedchuk and Kozak for sponsoring terrorism. They placed restrictions on airlines, whose planes the pro-Russian lawmakers used to fly to Russia, bypassing Kyiv’s ban on direct flights to the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian authorities also shut down three pro-Russian television channels owned by Kozak (112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK) and confiscated assets belonging to Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council stated that the sanctions were based on evidence of illegal coal shipments to Russia from the uncontrolled territories in eastern Ukraine (which is considered financing terrorist activity).

The Ukrainian Security Service interrogated Medvedchuk in early March. This came in connection with audio recordings that were released shortly beforehand by the online news outlet Censor.net. On the recordings, two men — who Censor.net identified as Medvedchuk and former Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, who oversaw the Kremlin’s relations with Ukraine — discussed electricity supplies to Crimea and the exchange of prisoners in the Donbas conflict zone. The conversation took place in 2014, Censor.net claimed. 

In late March, three representatives from Medvedchuk’s civic movement, Ukrainian Choice, were accused of high treason. According to Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, the three leaders of Medvedchuk’s movement are suspected of involvement in organizing and holding the 2014 Crimean status referendum, which preceded Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. 

A separate treason case was launched against Medvedchuk back in 2019, over his calls for the creation of an “autonomous Donbas region” with its own parliament and government. The Ukrainian Security Service was tasked with the investigation. In the end, it was closed since the SBU found no concrete evidence of a crime in Medvedchuk’s statements.

In addition to being one of Ukraine’s top oligarchs, Viktor Medvedchuk is considered the most influential pro-Russian politician in the country. He has met with Putin in an official capacity several times, is a member of the Ukrainian delegation for the Donbas peace negotiations in Minsk, and is counted among the authors of the Minsk Agreements. Medvedchuk is linked to the coal trade in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” (the uncontrolled territories in eastern Ukraine), as well as to the oil business in Russia (through companies registered to his wife). Kozak’s media holdings in Ukraine, including the sanctioned television channels, are also allegedly connected to Medvedchuk.

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Story by Olga Korelina

Updated and translated by Eilish Hart

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