LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s detention of fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a former pro-Russian opposition party leader and close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has sparked excitement in kyiv and irritation in Moscow.
Analysts say Medvedchuk will become a valuable pawn in Russian-Ukrainian talks to end the devastating war the Kremlin has unleashed against its former Soviet neighbor.
Medvedchuk was arrested on Tuesday as part of a special operation by the Ukrainian State Security Service, or SBU. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed that Russia could win Medvedchuk’s freedom by exchanging Ukrainians now held captive by the Russians.
The 67-year-old oligarch escaped house arrest several days before the outbreak of hostilities on February 24 in Ukraine. He faces between 15 years and a life sentence for treason and complicity with a terrorist organization for having negotiated coal purchases for the separatist republic of Donetsk, supported by Russia, in eastern Ukraine.
Medvedchuk has close ties to Putin, who is believed to be godfather to his youngest daughter. His detention sparked a heated exchange between officials in Moscow and Kyiv.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and the country’s former president, posted threats against Ukrainian authorities on the Telegram messaging app, calling them “monsters” and warning them to “watch carefully and lock down the doors at night”. ”
In response, Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called Medvedev “a person” and said his words were “mean and, as usual, stupid”.
“The friendly relations between Putin and Medvedchuk make him a valuable trophy for kyiv, and in the Kremlin they arouse fury and a dangerous desire for revenge,” Penta Center analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “The fate of Medvedchuk will undoubtedly become a subject of negotiation and one of the points of secret agreements between Kyiv and Moscow.”
Zelenskyy posted a photo of Medvedchuk sitting in handcuffs and wearing a camouflage uniform with a Ukrainian flag patch, in which he looks tired but visibly unharmed.
Medvedchuk’s wife Oksana Marchenko appealed to Zelenskyy, calling for her husband’s release and giving him guarantees that “his life would not be in danger”.
“My husband is persecuted for political reasons against Ukrainian laws,” Marchenko said.
Medvedchuk is the head of the political council of Ukraine’s pro-Russian opposition platform — the For Life party, the largest opposition group in the Ukrainian parliament. He is one of its 44 lawmakers in the 450-seat Rada. The activity of his party was suspended for the duration of the war on the initiative of Zelenskyy.
“The war automatically made Medvedchuk (Russia’s) accomplice, since he personally advised Putin on Ukrainian affairs and directly or indirectly influenced many Kremlin decisions,” Fesenko said. “Zelenskyy no longer needs to be careful, and by arresting Medvedchuk he wants to show that he is not afraid of the Kremlin and is ready to negotiate, having different cards on the negotiating table.”
Ivan Bakanov, the head of Ukraine’s national security agency, said on Wednesday that the Russian security service, the FSB, had planned to evacuate Medvedchuk, disguised as a Ukrainian serviceman, to Moscow via the disputed territory of Transnistria in Moldova. , where Russia has stationed troops. .
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