Ukrainian forces say they’ve captured Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close ally Viktor Medvedchuk, who was facing treason charges and escaped house arrest in the early days of the war.
Medvedchuk, who led the pro-Kremlin “Opposition Platform — For Life” party in Ukraine, which aimed to steer the country away from the West, was arrested in 2021 on charges of treason and financing terrorism. He escaped house arrest after Putin declared war on Ukraine on February 24, and has been in hiding since. Putin is known to be a close personal friend of Medvedchuk’s, and the godfather of his daughter Daria.
The head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Ivan Bakanov, said in a statement on Facebook late Tuesday that the SBU had carried out a “lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation” to capture Medvedchuk. In a photo published by the SBU, Medvedchuk is seen wearing a Ukrainian army uniform and appears disheveled and pale.
In his nightly address on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed Medvedchuk had been captured, saying he had been found attempting to disguise himself as a soldier. “If Medvedchuk chose a military uniform for himself, he falls under the rules of war,” Zelenskyy said, offering to exchange him for Ukrainians in Russian captivity.
In 2014, the U.S. determined Medvedchuk used his “resources or influence to support or act on behalf of senior Russian government officials,” sanctioning him following Russia’s invasion of Crimea. In January this year, the U.S. again sanctioned Medvedchuk, along with other Kremlin-linked Ukrainian politicians, accusing them of involvement in a plot to set up a collaborator government in the wake of an impending Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy oversaw a crackdown on Medvedchuk since he was elected president on a pro-Western platform in 2019. In February 2021, the president sanctioned Medvedchuk and ordered three Kremlin-linked TV channels that are thought to have been owned by the oligarch off the air for allegedly promoting anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Medvedchuk was then charged with treason in May 2021 and subsequently placed under house arrest, with Ukraine accusing him of selling military secrets to Moscow and exploiting Crimea’s natural resources under the Russian occupation. Medvedchuk denied the charges.
In March this year, after the Russian invasion, Zelenskyy suspended Medvedchuk’s party, along with several others that have ties to Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency that he had seen the photos of Medvedchuk released by the Ukrainians, but that it was too early to say whether they were authentic.