The “Prince of Darkness”, the eyes and ears of the Kremlin, the multi-millionaire: who is Viktor Medvedchuk, the man kyiv hands over to Moscow?

While rumors of a potential exchange for him had been swirling for months, his name finally emerged on Wednesday, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that he was among the prisoners handed over to Moscow.

These people “deserve neither regret nor sympathy,” Zelensky said. There are those who “fought against Ukraine and those who betrayed Ukraine”, and for kyiv, Mr. Medvedchuk belongs to the second category.

In the wake of the Russian invasion on February 24, this 68-year-old former Ukrainian MP and businessman fled his house arrest, disappearing into the wild before being arrested by special forces on April 12.

Dressed in a military uniform, handcuffed and with disheveled hair, this multi-millionaire, once one of the most influential men in Ukraine, then appeared only as a shadow of himself in the images broadcast by the services Ukrainians.

The announcement of the arrest of one of the most hated politicians in Ukraine for his links with Vladimir Putin had sparked an explosion of joy on social networks that day.

“It’s a symbolic event, it’s like capturing Goebbels,” Serguiy Lechtchenko, adviser to President Zelensky’s chief of staff, told AFP, referring to the former Nazi Germany propaganda chief.

Charged with treason

Born in Siberia on August 7, 1954, Viktor Medvedtchouk returned with his family to Ukraine in the 1960s.

After his law studies, he defended several Ukrainian dissidents as a lawyer.

Nicknamed “Prince of Darkness” by the media, “he was the man who received direct instructions and resources from Putin to prepare the ground for the invasion,” Lechchenko said.

According to Mr. Medvedchuk, his relationship with Vladimir Putin “has been developing for 20 years”. “I do not want to say that I exploit this relationship, but it is part of my political arsenal”, he told in 2021 to the American magazine Time.

The two men met in the early 2000s: Vladimir Putin, a former KGB member, had just been elected President of Russia and Mr. Medvedchuk, a lawyer suspected of having been an unofficial KGB collaborator, then headed the office of the Ukrainian president.

In this position, he is accused of having organized in 2004 massive electoral fraud in favor of a pro-Russian, which triggered the first Maidan, a pro-Western uprising.

At the end of 2013, a second uprising broke out in kyiv, leading to the fall of a pro-Russian president. A month later, Russia annexed Crimea, and a war ensued with Moscow-backed separatists in the east of the country.

Discreet, Mr. Medvedchuk joins the peace talks and ends up entering Parliament in 2019, after 15 years without an official political function.

But in February 2021, the horizon begins to darken for him, even if he remained the 12th richest person in Ukraine last year with 620 million dollars, according to Forbes magazine.

“Vice-Putin” in Ukraine

President Zelensky bans by decree three of his television channels, mouthpieces of Russian propaganda, and the authorities seize assets of the Medvedchuk family, including a pipeline that carries Russian oil to Europe. In May 2021, he was charged with “high treason”.

Justice accuses him of owning real estate in Crimea, but also of having invested in 2014 in a Russian refinery which supplied fuel to the separatist forces of Donbass.

The placement of Mr. Medvedchuk under house arrest angers Vladimir Putin who then denounces “a political purge”.

“Medvedchuk was the vice-Putin, his man of confidence, his eyes and his ears in Ukraine, which diffused messages of Moscow” by its media, summarizes Serguiï Lechtchenko.

Oksana Marchenko, wife of Medvedchuk ©AP

Already hit by US sanctions for his role in the annexation of Crimea, Mr. Medvedchuk has also been sanctioned by the United Kingdom.

After he fled, Ukrainian media discovered on the grounds of his residence near kyiv an profusely decorated life-size train carriage bearing the Russian coat of arms, apparently a birthday present from his wife, Oksana Marchenko, who fled in Russia.

The article is in French

Tags: Prince Darkness eyes ears Kremlin multimillionaire Viktor Medvedchuk man kyiv hands Moscow

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