The imprisonment of an oligarch close to Putin in Ukraine has angered Moscow

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – The detention in Ukraine of fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party and a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was greeted with enthusiasm in Kyiv and anger in Moscow.

Analysts say Medvedchuk will become a valuable pawn in talks between Russia and Ukraine 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 Ukraine’s state security service SBU. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has suggested that Russia could win Medvedchuk’s freedom by trading in Ukrainians now being held captive by the Russians.

The 67-year-old oligarch managed to escape from house arrest a few days before hostilities broke out in Ukraine. He faces 15 years to life in prison for treason and aiding and abetting a terrorist organization that brokered coal purchases for the separatist, Russian-backed Donetsk Republic in eastern Ukraine.

Medvedchuk has close ties to Putin, who is believed to be the godfather of his youngest daughter. His detention has sparked a heated exchange of blows between officials in Moscow and Kyiv.

Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council and former President of the country, posted threats to the Ukrainian authorities on the messaging app Telegram, calling them “freaks” and warning them to “look around carefully and lock the doors tight at night.” ”

Zelenskyy’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak then called Medvedev a “nobody” and said his words were “evil and, as usual, stupid”.

“The friendly relations between Putin and Medvedchuk make him a valuable trophy for Kyiv, and in the Kremlin they are fueling anger and a dangerous desire for revenge,” Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at the Penta Center, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “The fate of Medvedchuk will undoubtedly become the subject of negotiations and one of the points of covert agreements between Kyiv and Moscow.”

Zelenskyy has published a photo of Medvedchuk sitting in handcuffs and wearing a camouflage uniform with a patch of the Ukrainian flag, in which he looks tired but visibly unharmed.

Medvedchuk’s wife Oksana Marchenko has appealed to Zelenskyy demanding her husband’s release and giving him guarantees that “his life is not in danger”.

“My husband is being persecuted for political reasons, against the laws of Ukraine,” Marchenko said.

Medvedchuk is the Chair of the Political Council of Ukraine’s pro-Russian opposition platform – For Life Party, the largest opposition group in Ukraine’s parliament. He is one of the 44 deputies of the 450-seat Rada. The activities of his party were suspended for the duration of the war on Zelenskyy’s initiative.

“The war automatically made Medvedchuk (Russia’s) accomplice, as he personally advised Putin on Ukrainian affairs and directly or indirectly influenced many Kremlin decisions,” Fesenko said. “Zelenskyy no longer has to be careful, and with the arrest of Medvedchuk he wants to show that he is not afraid of the Kremlin and is ready to negotiate, as he has other cards on the negotiating table.”

Ivan Bakanov, the head of Ukraine’s national security agency, said on Wednesday that Russia’s FSB security service planned to evacuate Medvedchuk, disguised as a Ukrainian soldier, to Moscow via the disputed Transnistrian territory in Moldova, where Russia has troops stationed.


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