Some worry that it might receive a sharp reaction from Russia, while others argue that this is the revival of the reform agenda, promised by the Ukrainian President. Ukrainenu has looked at what we know so far about the story.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova dropped a bomb on May 11th, when she said that the Pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk and Taras Kozak are charged with high treason. Viktor Medvedchuk is one of the most powerful men in Ukraine, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is godfather to his daughter.
Both Viktor Medvedchuk and Taras Kozak are members of the Ukrainian parliament for the pro-Russian party Opposition Platform – For Life, and Kozak owns several Tv-channels, which were closed by the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky back in February. The President justified the need to close the channels to “fight against the danger of Russian aggression in the information arena.” Both Kozak and Medvedchuk were sanctioned, and Ukraine nationalized one of Medvedchuk’s oil pipelines, his most valuable possession.
The secret service in Ukraine SBU searched the house of Medvedchuk in Kyiv yesterday. At the same time, Venediktova, the Prosecutor General, revealed evidence against them at a press conference aired on several Tv-channels. Venediktova argued that Medvedchuk and Kozak have been colluding with the Russian government, helping them extract natural resources in Crimea, according to Kyiv Post.
Venediktova played several tapes given by the SBU, where Medvedchuk talked to the deputy head of Putin’s administration, Dmitry Kozak. SBU believes that Medvedchuk was sharing sensitive information with Russia, such as geological information about where to extract resources in Crimea and the location of Ukrainian troops in Donbas, which is illegal, according to Ukrainian law.
Still not seen any reaction from Russia
There has still not been any official reaction from Russia. Several experts fear that the current case against Medvedchuk could trigger a sharp response from Russia due to the ties between Medvedchuk and Putin. Some experts link the recent escalation and Russian military build-up in Donbas with the sanctions imposed against Medvedchuk back in February. The current events could, therefore, trigger another confrontation with Russia.
“Once again, follow the dots. Last Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv. Five days later, on Tuesday, Ukraine’s prosecutor general charged two leading pro-Russian politicians with high treason, citing economic crimes allegedly committed six years ago. Presumably, behind last week’s fist-bumping, Blinken-Zelenskiy photo ops, the Biden envoy told the Ukrainian president that his back is covered,” wrote James Brooke, the author of Ukraine Business News and a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief, today, “I hope so. Russia still has 80-100,000 troops on Ukraine’s southern and eastern borders. Four months from today, on Sept. 12, Russia and Belarus are to have their massive annual military exercise — Zapad, or West.”
The pro-Russian party, the Opposition Platform – For Life, commented on the charges against Medvedchuk and Kozak, saying that it is “an act of revenge and persecution against the chair of the political council of the country’s biggest opposition party,” reports the Russian News Agency, Tass. Party member Ilya Kiva said that Medvedchuk is in Ukraine at the moment and will stay and await trial.
“I declare that I remain on the territory of Ukraine and have no plans to evade justice. I will keep taking part in legitimate investigative procedures and will seek justice for myself and all Ukrainian voters who entrusted me with the lawmaker’s mandate,” Medvedchuk said in a statement released by his party, according to Tass.
Will there be a verdict?
It is too early to tell whether there will be a verdict. Still, Volodymyr Fesenko, chairman of the Penta Center of Applied Political Studies, has analyzed the recent events for the Ukrainian news agency Unian and has come with his take on the events.
“As of now, following the raids, Medvedchuk’s whereabouts have not been established. We can assume he is in Russia. But I don’t think Putin will fight over Medvedchuk. Rather, the latter will become yet another fugitive outcast,” writes Fesenko pointing out that the operation between Medvedchuk seems very coordinated and not at all accidental.
Fesenko argues that the case against Medvedchuk can bring many good changes to Ukraine, where law enforcement has now been given a clear sign of what the Ukrainian President expects of them and the fight against pro-Russians.
“First, this is about President Zelensky appreciating their efforts. Secondly, they seek a positive social effect by demonstrating strength, influence, and capabilities,” Fesenko argues, “The effect of competition, including on Medvedchuk’s case, is already noticeable. And this will be the case in the future, serving as an additional impetus, pushing law enforcers to boast of their results. Of course, they all need to remain professional and collect due evidence. But the impetus is already in place.”
“The second important point, besides Zelensky’s political will influencing the actions of law enforcement, is public demand and support of a significant part of the public. I have already said that calls for legal action against Medvedchuk appeared immediately after sanctions were imposed. Since people demand this, it will only motivate the president and law enforcement to act in this direction,” he wrote.
Zelensky takes more steps to stop oligarchs
While many eyes have been on the case against the pro-Russian oligarch Medvedchuk, Zelensky has also signed a law on prosecution in absentia of suspects hiding in Russia or the areas controlled by the pro-Russian separatists to Unian.
At the same time, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary at the National Security and Defense Council in Ukraine, said that 13 people in Ukraine fall under the definition of an oligarch. Kyiv Post writes that they have seen a change of tone from Zelensky since mid-April, where he has become more vocal against oligarchs. The paper speculates whether Zelensky is on his way back to fight them and to implementing Western-style reforms, which he promised back in 2019 during his Presidential campaign.
In April, Zelensky called oligarchs for bandits and named several top oligarchs by name in a TV address and said they had to obey the law. It is a change of tone. Zelensky fired several ministers and heads of state agencies, who were pro-reforms and very well-liked in the West, back in Spring 2020, and was accused of abandoning his reform agenda. Now, some argue that Zelensky might be on his way back to fighting oligarchy.
However, recently, the Ukrainian government drafted a bill raising the tax for extracting iron ore resources. It is seen as another attack on oligarchs, who are benefitting from what Kyiv Post calls “a very low resource rent tax.”