Pro-Kremlin oligarch denies Ukraine's treason allegation

Putin’s friend Viktor Medvedchuk accuses Kiev’s leaders of ‘persecution’

Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk answers journalists’ questions as he leaves the prosecutor general’s office in Kiev after a hearing on Wednesday. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk answers journalists’ questions as he leaves the prosecutor general’s office in Kiev after a hearing on Wednesday. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

 

Wealthy Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk – Russian president Vladimir Putin’s most prominent ally in the country – has dismissed treason allegations against him as part of a political attack by Kiev’s pro-western leaders.

Mr Medvedchuk was summoned for questioning on Wednesday over accusations that he transferred licences for offshore oil and gas fields near Crimea to Russia after it annexed the peninsula in 2014, and last year gave Russia classified information about a secret unit of the Ukrainian military.

Ukraine’s SBU security service also suspects that Mr Medvedchuk planned to recruit some of the many Ukrainians who work and study in Russia for covert operations in their home country that would serve Moscow’s interests.

“I regard this as political repression and illegal persecution against me, of the kind that [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelenskiy was already threatening in 2019. They are gradually making it happen through the legal system,” Mr Medvedchuk said outside the prosecutor general’s office in Kiev.

“I am prepared to defend myself, because I don’t feel guilty of anything,” he added, describing the accusations against him as “pressure being put on me . . . as a person whose actions are, for some reason or another, disliked by the authorities”.

Mr Medvedchuk (66) leads the Opposition Platform – For Life party that is the strongest pro-Moscow force in Ukraine and seeks to repair its traditional ties with Russia, despite the Kremlin’s occupation of Crimea and role in fomenting and sustaining a war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region that has killed 14,000 people.

He is one of a coterie of “oligarchs” who combine business clout with political influence in Ukraine, and he has close ties with Mr Putin, who is godfather to one of his daughters. 

Close associate

Ukrainian prosecutors also unveiled treason charges related to the same alleged incidents against Taras Kozak, a close business and political associate of Mr Medvedchuk who is believed to be in Russia.

In February, Ukraine banned three pro-Russian televisions channels formally owned by Mr Kozak and believed to be controlled by Mr Medvedchuk, and then included the men on a sanctions list targeting people and companies that allegedly help finance the Moscow-led separatists now running parts of Donbas.

Mr Zelenskiy and his allies insist the legal action against Mr Medvedchuk and his associates is part of a long-overdue reckoning with powerful figures who act on Russia’s behalf in Ukraine, and fits in with a broader drive to stop oligarchs exerting undue influence on the country’s politics.

“We don’t plan to interfere in these procedures, this is Ukraine’s domestic affair,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

“However, we are closely following these developments. We would like to make sure that this case is not based on political persecution and this is not a campaign stemming from someone’s desire to get rid of political rivals.”