Putin’s comrade is back

The presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in Ukraine next year. It may lead to the opening of the next battlefront – a political one, in addition to the military one. In Kiev, no one doubts Russia will try to interfere with internal Ukrainian affairs and have an influence on the election results. Viktor Medvedchuk, the most pro-Russian of the Ukrainian politicians, attempts to return to the Ukrainian political scene. Vladimir Putin is a godfather of his daughter, Darina. Medvedchuk is also a special envoy of Ukraine in the Minsk negotiations concerning the conflict in Donbass area and the situation of Ukrainian prisoners.

– Any pressure on Russia and its leaders is counterproductive – said Viktor Medvedchuk in an interview for 112 Ukraine, a private TV channel, while commenting on the situation of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, who was imprisoned in Russia and went on hunger strike on May 14, 2018.

However, Sentsov’s situation was not the topic of the interview, which was a kind of public announcement of the 64-year-old Medvedchuk’s return to the world of politics. The leader of the pro-Russian organisation Ukrainian Choice turned out to be the first guest of the new program “Great Interview”, a discussion with a well-known politician, in that popular TV station.

In the light of the latest publications of the “Scheme” program (a joint project by Radio Svoboda and Ukrainian TV: First), it was not a surprise. The 112 TV has recently changed its owner. Officially, it belongs to the German owner of a used car dealership. As journalists found out, he offered cars with a total value of… 40.000 dollars last August. In their opinion, the actual owner of the 112 TV channel is… Medvedchuk. He can certainly afford to buy a TV station. In the interview mentioned above, he boasted that he and his wife paid 20 million hryvnias of personal income taxes (not mentioning the corporate tax) in 2017.

The new political season of Viktor Medvedchuk began at the end of July. Moreover, it started in the TV show format. On July 25, the leader of the For Life party, Vadim Rabinovich, presented the program of his party in a NewsOne TV station. NewsOne belongs to his party colleague. At the same time, he offered viewers to choose politicians who, in their opinion, would best deal with solving problems specific to Ukraine. Medvedchuk won in a category “Peace and Relations with the Community of Independent States”. People were voting by phoning the TV station. Rabinovich called Medvedchuk the “golden key to peace” and invited to join his party. Two days later Medvedchuk agreed.

Devil’s advocate

When the war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Medvedchuk became Ukraine’s special envoy for talks on exchanging hostages with the separatist republics in Donbass. He did not become a negotiator by accident. Viktor Medvedchuk is a close friend of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian President is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, Darina.

The politician claims he helped to release over 400 people from the captivity of pro-Russian militants. It is said he influenced releasing Nadiya Savchenko and Hennadi Afanasiev, who was accused in the Oleg Sentsov’s case. Is Medvedchuk able to change the dramatic situation of the director who has been starving for over 100 days? In the interview mentioned above, he expressed the belief that “Sentsov will come back”.

In August, Ukrainian media more often reminded about the influence of Medvedchuk on the situation of another prisoner, Ukrainian poet and an active member of a dissident movement in the times of the USSR, Vasyl Stus. The scandal broke, when it turned out that the film scenes involving Medvedchuk were cut out from the currently produced fiction film about the author of “Birds of Spirit”.

Thirty-eight years earlier, a young lawyer named Medvedchuk was appointed as a public defender of a poet accused of Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda. Stus himself was opposed that decision because he considered the young lawyer a typical representative of the Komsomol.

In 1980, during the final court meeting, Medvedchuk stated that he agreed with the indictment and that Stus was guilty. The lawyer only asked to take into consideration the attenuating circumstances, i.e. that Stus, while working in Kiev enterprises in 1979-1980, met his quota for the day and that he underwent gastric surgery.

The poet was sentenced to 10 years of forced labour and five years of exile. Stus went on hunger strike several times. At the end of August 1985, he was once again put into solitary confinement. To protest, he began to starve again. He died on the night of September 3rd.

The whole affair had a considerable resonance. According to one of the actors, it were Medvedchuk’s people who demanded to cut the certain scenes out from the film. The filmmakers defended themselves, claiming that the scenes were removed due to the movie being too long.

Even the Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman himself stated his opinion on that matter. He claimed he was against changing the history. Ultimately, the authors of the film assured that the scenes with Stusa’s defender would be shot shortly.

The Kingmaker of Ukrainian politics

Medvedchuk’ biography is full of unexpected twists. When he was a child, he dreamed of becoming a militia officer. However, he could not get into the militia school because of his father’s biography, who during the war cooperated with the Germans. According to the biographers, Medvedchuk became a non-headcount co-worker of the militia and got to the law school thanks for the support of someone in power. However, during the second year of studying there was another twist: the patrol of the Soviet counterpart of Polish ORMO, which was under Medvedchuk’s command, beat the underage boy. Medvedchuk was sentenced to two years in prison and expelled from the university. The verdict was later deleted, and the Minister of Education of the USSR issued an order to bring Medvedchuk back to the university.

New opportunities emerged with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1992, Medvedchuk founded an international legal company BIM, which dealt with, among others, the registration of companies in tax havens. However, he was also involved in other business activities. He had six business partners at that time, and the whole group was called the “Kiev Seventh”. In the 90s, it controlled many different companies. The Surkis brothers were a part of the group. The elder one, Hryhoriy, is today the vice-president of UEFA, and the younger one, Ihor, is the owner of the well-known football club Dynamo Kyiv.

The Kiev group, like other clans at that time, understood that it needed politicians’ protection for their business. In the second half of the 1990s, the “Kiev Seventh” took control of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine. Medvedchuk became its chairman, and the party entered the Parliament in the 1998 elections.

At the beginning of the XXI century, Medvedchuk managed to regain the trust of Leonid Kuchma, as, for a certain period, the Kiev group had been in the President’s disgrace. First, the politician became the First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and later, in 2002, the Head of the Kuchma’s presidential administration. It coincided with the Vladimir Putin’s first Presidency in Russia.

People started to perceive Medvedchuk as the Kingmaker of Ukrainian politics. It was in his day that the presidential administration issued the so-called “temnyki” – instructions to newsrooms, which content can be published, and which should not.

In 2004, after the Orange Revolution, his career in politics ended. Since then, all his attempts to return have failed.

A toxic politician

Medvedchuk’s public action causes many adverse reactions. Even his wife, Oksana Marchenko, a TV presenter, experienced it, when journalists of 1 + 1 TV channel, one of the most popular TV stations in Ukraine, belonging to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, protested against her participation in the next season of the “Dancing with the Stars” TV show. They argued that the marriage had never “condemned Russian aggression in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea”. Nevertheless, the program, with Medvedchuk’s wife in the cast, was launched on August 26.

Oksana Marchenko is the official owner of many companies managed by Viktor Medvedchuk. The politician admits he cannot be the owner himself, because he has been subjected to US sanctions since March 2014. Medvedchuk himself has never hidden his anti-Americanism and pro-Russianness.

Photo: Viktor Medvedchuk during an interview for the TV station 112 Ukraine.

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