Putin ally Medvedchuk was arrested trying to sneak across border

Putin ally Medvedchuk was arrested trying to sneak across border

April 13, 2022

Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk was arrested by Ukraine while he tried to into sneak across border into Transdniestria to meet the FSB, Ukraine intelligence says

  • Zelensky on Tuesday published a photo Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs
  • Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service said he was captured trying to cross border 
  • A day before invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv said Medvedchuk escaped house arrest
  • He was the leader of the pro-Russian ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ party
  • However, he was put under house arrest last year and charged with High Treason
  • He boasts close ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who is his daughter’s godfather 
  • Early Wednesday, Zelensky offered tycoon to Moscow in a prisoner swap deal
  • The Kremlin has now rejected the idea of a prisoner exchange with Ukraine

Arrested pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk had planned to escape Ukraine by secretly crossing into the breakaway Transdniestria region of Moldova, but his plan was foiled, the head of Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service said on Wednesday.

Russian FSB intelligence agents were waiting for Medvedchuk in Transdniestria to take him to Moscow, but he was instead arrested in Kyiv region on his way to the border, the head of the SBU agency said.

Information about Medvedchuk’s capture came after the Kremlin rejected the idea of exchanging the controversial Kyiv ally of Putin for Ukrainians detained by Russia. 

The Ukrainian lawmaker and tycoon, one of the country’s richest people, is known for his close ties to Putin and says the Russian leader is godfather to his youngest daughter, Darya.

Ukrainian authorities announced late on Tuesday they had captured Medvedchuk, 67, who escaped from house arrest as Russia sent troops to the pro-Western country on February 24.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday published a photo (pictured) of prominent pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs after what he said was an operation by security forces

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered to swap him for Ukrainians captured by Russia, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Medvedchuk had ‘nothing to do with the special military operation.

‘He is a foreign politician,’ he told reporters, adding that the Kremlin was not aware if Medvedchuk wanted Moscow to be involved. ‘Medvedchuk has never had any behind-the-scenes relations with Russia,’ Peskov added, implying that he would otherwise have left Ukraine before Moscow sent in troops.

Medvedchuk is a hugely controversial figure because of his close ties to Moscow.

He had been under house arrest since 2021 on treason charges over accusations that he tried to steal natural resources from Russia-annexed Crimea and hand Ukrainian military secrets to Moscow.       

Speaking on Wednesday, Zelensky offered Medvedchuk in a prisoner swap deal. 

‘I propose to the Russian Federation to exchange this guy of yours for our boys and our girls who are now in Russian captivity,’ the president said in a video address posted on Telegram in the early hours of the morning.

‘And may Medvedchuk be an example for you. Even the former oligarch did not escape. What can we say about much simpler criminals from the Russian hinterland? We will get everyone.’  

On Tuesday night, Zelensky posted a picture online of a dishevelled-looking Medvedchuk with his hands in cuffs and dressed in a Ukrainian army uniform.

‘A special operation was carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine. Well done!’ Zelensky wrote on Telegram, announcing Medvedchuk’s capture.

Security agency chief Ivan Bakanov said agents had carried out a ‘lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation to detain’ the Russia-friendly lawmaker and leader of the ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ party. 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (right) attends a meeting with leader of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform – For Life party Viktor Medvedchuk in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 18, 2019

A day before Russia’s invasion on February 24, Kyiv said Medvedchuk had escaped from house arrest and went on the run.  

‘You can be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may be hiding from justice lately. You can even wear a Ukrainian military uniform for camouflage… But will it help you escape punishment? Not at all! Shackles are waiting for you,’ Ukraine’s national security agency wrote on twitter. 

The Russian president was furious when Medvedchuk – a former lawyer and Ukraine’s most prominent pro-Russia politician – was placed under house arrest and charged with high treason

The new information about Medvedchuk’s capture came after the Kremlin rejected the idea of exchanging the controversial Kyiv ally of Putin for Ukrainians detained by Russia Pictured: Medvedchuk speaking in 2021

He was also said to be angry when Medvedchuk’s three TV stations were blocked for allegedly spreading Russian misinformation.

Operatives ‘conducted this lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation’, the head of SBU Ivan Bakanov said.

A Kremlin spokesman was cited by the Tass news agency as saying he had seen the photo and could not say whether it was genuine.

Before becoming president, Zelensky was an actor in the TV show ‘Servant of the People’, playing a history teacher who is unintentionally elected as the president, after a video of his character giving an anti-corruption rant goes viral.

Like his character, Zelensky in 2019 ran on an anti-corruption campaign, and trounced the pro-Russia leaning incumbent Petro Poroshenko by taking 73 percent of votes.  Poroshenko lost to the television star across all regions of the country, including in the west where he traditionally enjoyed strong support.

The arrest of Medvedchuk was viewed by many as part of Zelensky’s administration’s crackdown on corrupt, pro-Russian figures. In May 2021, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General accused the Russian oligarch of attempted looting of national resources in Crimea – which was annexed by Russia in 2014. 

Putin, who had largely vanished from public view since his forces were driven from the approaches to Kyiv this month, resurfaced on Tuesday to defend his ‘noble’ invasion of Ukraine, saying peace talks had come to a dead end. 

FILE Ukrainian tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, left, speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, October 6, 2020

In a press event inside a hangar at a far eastern space base six time zones from Moscow, Putin rattled off talking points: that Moscow had ‘no choice’ but to intervene to protect separatists, defeat neo-Nazis and ‘help people’.

Russia’s economy was standing on its feet despite Western sanctions, he added, and signs of war crimes allegedly carried out by Russian troops were fakes staged by the West. As for talks: ‘We have again returned to a dead-end situation for us.’

It was only his second public appearance in a week, following a brief appearance at the funeral of a nationalist lawmaker where he said nothing directly about the war.

Asked by workers at the space base if the operation in Ukraine would achieve its goals, Putin said: ‘Absolutely. I don’t have any doubt at all.’

‘Its goals are absolutely clear and noble.’

But in those remarks, and a later news conference held before flags at the back of the hangar alongside his wartime ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin frequently seemed to ramble or stammer.  

Only occasionally did he adopt the icy, confident demeanour that has been his trademark in public appearances over more than 22 years as Russia’s leader.

‘That Blitzkrieg which our foes were counting on did not work,’ Putin said, of financial sanctions.

Putin’s recent withdrawal from public appearances was a change for a leader who was ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war.

On Monday he met the visiting chancellor of Austria. But the meeting was held at a country residence outside Moscow and no images were released, a contrast from talks with Western leaders on the eve of the war, when they were pictured seated at opposite ends of a huge table in the ornate Kremlin palace.

Russia’s tanks pulled out of northern Ukraine after failing in what the West believes was a mission to swiftly capture the capital Kyiv. Many of the towns they left behind were littered with the bodies of civilians killed in what Kyiv says was a campaign of murder, torture and rape.

Moscow denies targeting civilians or carrying out war crimes.

Russia says its campaign now aims to capture more territory on behalf of separatists in two eastern provinces, a region known as the Donbas. It includes Mariupol port, which has been reduced to a wasteland under Russian siege.

Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped inside that city with no way to bring in food or water, and accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys.

The battle for Mariupol appeared on Tuesday to be reaching a decisive phase, with Ukrainian marines holed up in the Azovstal industrial district. Reuters journalists accompanying Russian-backed separatists saw flames billowing from the Azovstal district.

The arrest of Medvedchuk was viewed by many as part of Zelensky’s administration’s crackdown on pro-Russian figures. Pictured: Handout photo made available by Ukrainian Presidency shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives for a meeting with Austrian chancellor in Kyiv on April 9, 2022

Since Putin sent troops over the border on Feb. 24, about a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million population have been forced from their homes and thousands have been killed or injured.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which includes Mariupol, said he had seen incident reports on possible chemical weapons use in the city but could not confirm them.

‘We know that last night around midnight a drone dropped some so-far unknown explosive device, and the people that were in and around the Mariupol metal plant, there were three people, they began to feel unwell,’ he told CNN.

They were taken to hospital and their lives were not in danger, he said.

Zelenskiy had said on Monday that Russia may resort to chemical weapons as it massed troops for a new assault. He did not say if they actually had been used. The United States and Britain said they were trying to verify the reports.

Chemical weapons production, use and stockpiling is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Russia’s defence ministry has not responded to a Reuters request for comment. Russian-backed separatist forces in the east denied using chemical weapons in Mariupol, the Interfax news agency reported.

After their troops got bogged down in the face of Ukrainian resistance, the Russians abandoned their bid to capture the capital Kyiv. But they are redoubling efforts in the east, including Donetsk and the neighbouring Luhansk region, where Governor Serhiy Gaidai urged residents to evacuate.

‘It’s far more scary to remain and burn in your sleep from a Russian shell,’ he wrote on social media. ‘Evacuate, with every day the situation is getting worse. Take your essential items and head to the pickup point.’

Zelensky pleaded overnight for more weapons from the West to help it end the siege of Mariupol and fend off the expected eastern offensive.

‘Unfortunately we are not getting as much as we need to end this war faster…in particular, to lift the blockade of Mariupol,’ he said.

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