Ukraine's ex-president says treason case furore distracts from Russian threat

Petro Poroshenko returns to Kyiv as German foreign minister holds talks on security crisis

 Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko addresses supporters after his arrival at an airport some 40km outside Kyiv on Monday. Photograph:  Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko addresses supporters after his arrival at an airport some 40km outside Kyiv on Monday. Photograph: Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images

 

Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has returned to his homeland to face treason allegations that he says are part of a politically motivated attack that undermines the embattled country’s unity and ability to resist Russian aggression.

Thousands of cheering and flag-waving supporters met Mr Poroshenko at one of Kyiv’s airports on Monday morning, when he arrived from Poland to answer questions in a case that could lead to him facing 15 years in jail.

Mr Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president from 2014-2019, denies playing any role in allegedly illegal state purchases of coal from areas of the eastern Donbas region that were seized during fighting in spring 2014 by Russian-led separatists.

Prosecutors say the deal funnelled millions of euro to the separatists and involved prominent Ukrainian pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, a friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is also facing treason and terrorism charges that he denies.

Mr Poroshenko says the case is an act of political revenge by current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and a dangerous distraction at a time when Russia has sent some 100,000 troops to within striking range of Ukraine.

“We are not here to protect [me], but to unite and protect Ukraine . . . The authorities are confused, weak, and instead of fighting Putin, they are trying to fight us,” the confectionary billionaire told supporters.

A united Ukraine is strong, and a strong Ukraine is capable of pushing back Putin.”

A Kyiv court was expected to decide on Monday evening whether to place him in pre-trial detention or set bail that could amount to some €31 million.

Mr Zelenskiy, a former comedian who as a political novice beat Mr Poroshenko in 2019 elections, insists he is fighting corruption and the informal rule of powerful “oligarchs” rather than attacking domestic rivals.

Security crisis

Ukraine is now at the centre of a major security crisis in Europe, as Russia threatens to use “military-technical” means to defend its interests unless Nato agrees not to allow any more eastern European states to join the alliance and withdraws its forces from the region – demands that the US and its allies flatly reject.

“The most effective lever we have to back Ukraine is the unanimous commitment of the EU, the G7 and Nato that any further aggression would come at a high price for the Russian regime,” German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday in Kyiv, where she met Mr Zelenskiy.

“No country has the right to dictate to other countries which direction they may take, which relationships they may have and which alliances they may enter into. Ukraine’s sovereignty can and will never be subject of negotiations,” she added, before flying to Moscow for talks with senior Russian diplomats on Tuesday.

She said Germany was willing to help Ukraine with cyber security and other technical assistance, but would not provide it with lethal weapons due to what she called her country’s “historical responsibility”.

Kyiv and many of its allies are frustrated with Berlin’s stance on weapons sales and its refusal to scrap Nord Stream 2, a huge and strategically important gas pipeline project with Russia.