He had fled from his home, where he was under house arrest, as soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched: Ukrainian MP and billionaire Viktor Medvedchuk was found and arrested on Tuesday during a “special operation” by the Ukrainian authorities.
A special operation was carried out thanks to the SBU (Ukrainian security services, editor’s note). Cheer!
Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, Tuesday
A nice “catch of war” for Zelensky
This message posted on social networks by Volodymyr Zelensky is accompanied by a photo of Viktor Medvedchuk, handcuffed and dressed in a uniform of the Ukrainian army.
The SBU confirmed the arrest, in a victorious tone, but without giving further details on the operation itself:
You can be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may be on the run. You can even wear a Ukrainian military uniform to dress up… But will it help you escape punishment? Not at all!
The SBU, on Telegram messaging
Zelensky now wants to use Medvedchuk as a bargaining chip with Russia. The man arrested on Tuesday is anything but unknown in Ukraine – as in Russia. He was even among the most influential pro-Russian figures in the country, and had been for a long time.
Aged 67, Viktor Volodymyrovych Medvedchuk was born on August 7, 1954 in Potchet, a very isolated town in the Krasnoyarsk region (eastern Siberia), on the banks of the Biryusa. Married to Oksana Marchenko, he is divorced from Marina Lebedeva and Natalya Gavrilyuk. He has a daughter born in 1982 with his second wife, and another daughter born in 2004 with his current wife.
A father imprisoned for collaborating with the Nazis
At the end of the 1950s, his father was serving a sentence for acts of collaboration with the German occupation forces: according to his indictment before the Soviet court, Volodymyr Medvedchuk had “joined the counter-revolutionary organization of Ukrainian nationalists in April 1942.
In detail, he had officiated in a Nazi labor camp until November 1943, where young Ukrainians were forcibly deported. Arrested on August 7, 1954, he was sentenced to 8 years in prison and 4 years in exile in Siberia.
In the 1960s, the family moved back to Ukraine. The young Viktor became a lawyer in kyiv at the end of the 1970s, after studying law. But from that time he would have worked for the Soviet secret service – the KGB.
A loyal and efficient KGB secret agent
Several elements sow trouble during his early years: refused entry to the university of law in 1972, he was finally admitted by special decision of the rector… on the basis of a mysterious “request” from the Ministry of the Interior :
Medvedchuk Viktor Vladimirovich is allowed to enroll in the first year of law school. Reasons: permission of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR
Order No. 445 of the Rector of Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University
In fact, from that time on, Medvedchuk was a faithful volunteer and unofficial ally of the police… and soon of the Soviet secret services, initially in charge of low missions – such as the beating of a student in 1974.
Lawyer, he pushes his “clients”
He proved to be an effective ally: a few years later, having become a lawyer, he “defended” the dissident poet Vassyl Stous, who spent almost half his life in detention. Medvedchuk then asked the court for a harsher sentence than that requested by the prosecutor.
Another dissident poet, Yuriy Lytvyn, “defended” by Medvedchuk, deplores the “passivity” of his lawyer:
The passivity of my lawyer Medvedchuk in the defense [est dû] to the instructions he received from above and his subordination: he does not dare to reveal the mechanism implemented provocations against me
Yuriy Lytvyn, Soviet dissident poet, December 17, 1979, at his trial
Medvedchuk thus “defends” several other dissidents: at the trial of the poet Mikola Kuntsevich, in 1985, he pointed out to the prosecutor that the accused had not carried out part of his previous sentence. He sees his prison sentence extended by the same amount…
The irresistible rise of Medvedchuk
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Viktor Medvedchuk became the head of the Bar Association in Ukraine, and became an increasingly influential man. His law firm flourished, and Medvedchuk joined the informal “kyiv clan”, an important network of the country’s great industrial magnates.
Political life remains. Between 1997 and 2002, Medvedchuk was elected deputy for the first time. In 1998, he became the head of the United Social Democratic Party (SDPU), and even became vice-president of the parliament of the Rada (the Ukrainian parliament).
From 2002 to 2005, he already enjoyed immense influence by becoming head of the administration of President Leonid Kuchma, at the highest level of the state.
The tide briefly turns with the Orange Revolution: opposing candidate Viktor Yushchenko, Medvedchuk is targeted by an investigation after his victory, conducted for “abuse of power and money laundering”. But he is not doomed. In 2010, he joined the Supreme Council of Justice of Ukraine.
Powerful friendships with Putin
Two years later, in 2012, the sulphurous lawyer, businessman and adviser founded “Ukrainian Elections”, a political movement that positions itself against Ukraine’s accession to the European Union, to which he would prefer integration. strengthened economy with Russia.
From then on, the ties of friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Medvedchuk met when he worked for President Kuchma, grew stronger. Putin is even godfather to Medvedchuk’s youngest daughter.
In 2014, he officiated in the shadow of the annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, serving as an “intermediary” between the interim government in kyiv and Moscow. As such, he is subject to the sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada: he is prohibited from entering these territories and his assets are frozen.
No matter: in August 2015 he bought the yacht Royal Romance, a luxurious ship of nearly 100 meters and 200 million euros. His fortune is entrusted to his wife, to escape sanctions…
12th fortune of Ukraine
Medvedchuk, at that time, was one of the most influential pro-Russian personalities in the country. He no longer does politics, but business: he becomes the 12th richest person in Ukraine, with 620 million dollars, according to Forbes. The hybrid war that drags on in the Donbass allows it to amass comfortable income. For example, he invested in a Russian refinery in Donbass, which supplied fuel to the separatist forces. He also acquired real estate in Crimea.
During’an interview with the British daily The Independent, Medvedchuk recites all of Moscow’s arguments: according to him, Washington is interfering in the affairs of the “sister” nations that are Russia and Ukraine, Putin wants to liberate Ukraine which, for its part, wants war. Finally, admitting that Russia illegally armed separatist forces, Medvedchuk believes that NATO was doing the same with Ukraine.
Return to politics at the end of 2018: Medvedchuk was elected chairman of the political council of the “For Life” party, which he merged the following month with the “Opposition Platform” party. The following year, his formation won 37 seats in Parliament – including one for him.
From falling to fleeing…
But the fall is approaching: against the backdrop of renewed tensions with Moscow, President Zelensky elected in 2019 banned three pro-Russian television channels in February 2021, which would belong to Medvedchuk, underhand.
Suspected of “terrorist financing”, he was charged in May 2021 with “high treason” and “attempted looting of natural resources in Crimea” and placed under house arrest.
Two days after the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, the police who came for a check discovered that Viktor Medvedchuk had fled.
For the time being, the Russian authorities refuse to confirm the arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk – citing possible “fake news”, as always.
Zelensky: “We will have everyone”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed to the recently arrested Moscow, against Ukrainians in captivity in Russia:
I propose to the Russian Federation to exchange this man for our boys and girls who are currently in captivity in Russia. That’s why it’s important that our law enforcement and military also consider this possibility.
And to add: “And may Medvedchuk be an example for you. Even the former oligarch did not escape. Not to mention the far lesser criminals of the Russian hinterland. We will have everyone,” added the Head of State.