Pro-Russian politician and close Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk was captured by Ukrainian secret services in a “lightning-fast and dangerous” mission.
Medvedchuk, who escaped house arrest during the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was recaptured wearing military fatigues with a Ukrainian flag patch. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky first announced his arrest on social media.
“A special operation was carried out by the security service of Ukraine. Well done!” the Ukrainian president wrote in a post with a photo of Medvedchuk in handcuffs.
Medvedchuk, 67, was in house arrest since May 2021. He faced charges of treason and attempting to plunder public assets in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. His arrest drew anger from the Kremlin and Putin himself, who threatened to respond to what he called a “political persecution.”
According to his lawyer, Medvedchuk did not escape but was only forced to move locations due to threats from radical factions.
“In connection with the real danger to life, as well as the need to ensure his protection, Viktor Medvedchuk was evacuated to a safe place in Kyiv,” the lawyer Larysa Cherednychenko said. She added that her client intends to continue his legal obligations during the hearing of his treason case. Further details on how Medvedchuk was recaptured had not yet been disclosed to the public.
Head of the Ukrainian secret service (SBU) Ivan Bakanov praised his investigators and counterintelligence personnel who “proved their professionalism and conducted a lightning and dangerous multi-level special operation to detain deputy Medvedchuk.”
VIDEO: Ukraine's President Zelensky offers to swap treason-accused pro-Kremlin tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk for Ukrainians captured by Russia.
Medvedchuk, one of Ukraine's richest people and close to Putin, was wearing a Ukrainian army uniform when found after escaping house arrest pic.twitter.com/3jtqamrnNU
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) April 13, 2022
“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,” the Ukrainian Secret Service wrote in a translated tweet.
“And on the same traitors of Ukraine as you! Pro-Russian traitors and agents of the Russian secret services, remember – your crimes have no statute of limitations. And hiding places, wherever we find you!”
“No traitor will escape punishment and will be held accountable under the Law of Ukraine,” Bakanov said.
Zelensky took a shot at Medvedchuk for wearing a Ukrainian branded military camouflage, saying that the pro-Russia official did indeed try to disguise himself as a “soldier” and a “patriot.” He then put forward an offer to exchange Medvedchuk for Ukrainian POWs.
“I offer the Russian Federation to exchange this guy of yours for our boys and our girls who are now in Russian captivity. It is therefore important that our law enforcement officials and military also consider this possibility,” Zelensky wrote in a Facebook post.
Who is Viktor Medvedchuk?
Before his house arrest, Vikor Medvedchuk was the leader of the biggest opposition party in Ukraine, the Opposition Platform – For Life party. Medvedchuk was known for having such close ties to Putin, that the Russian leader was the godfather to his youngest daughter. His connections allowed him to become one of the most influential underground political brokers in the past three decades in Ukraine.
Needless to say, it also made him a very rich man with an estimated net worth of $620 million in 2021. Being close to Putin has its perks, too, as Medvedchuk may have been the most likely candidate to replace Zelensky if Russia were to succeed in occupying Ukraine and toppling itw government.
“I would think if Putin were picking, that (Medvedchuk) would be his choice, and presumably Putin would be picking,” expert on Ukraine and Russia at the University of Dayton Jaro Bilocerkowycz told Newsweek. “Even if he wasn’t the number one, he might be the actual number one, even if they put some other figurehead there.”
Bilocerkowycz added that Medvedchuk’s anti-European Union and anti-NATO stances make him an attractive candidate that aligns with Putin’s intentions to stop the expansion of Western influence.
His party, Opposition Platform – For Life, would also provide a pool of pro-Russian politicians that would man the Kremlin’s puppet government over Ukraine had it successfully toppled Kyiv. But we all know that he failed in doing so due to bad planning and underestimation.
Aside from his connections to Moscow, Medvedchuk’s stake in petroleum projects and networks with Russian oligarchs would have allowed him to tie Ukraine’s economy to Russia’s.
“(Medvedchuk) had asserted control over a significant number of media resources, and so, I think, that’s a bit of an added value for the Kremlin,” fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Andrew Lohsen said.
“It’s an impossible task to try to create the image of himself as a rightful leader of Ukraine,” he added. “But of course, he would have a significant advantage in trying to undermine support for Ukrainian sovereignty from the inside.”
Medvedchuk had a brief stint as a mediator between Moscow-funded separatists and the Ukrainian government in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, this came to an end with the presidency of Zelensky in 2019.
In February 2021, Zelensky signed a decree that accused Medvedchuk of funding terrorism and froze his assets. The decree also took down three television stations associated with Medvedchuk, which were allegedly broadcasting pro-Russian propaganda.