Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch, was detained in a “special operation,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday on Telegram.
Zelensky posted a photo of a handcuffed and disheveled-looking Medvedchuk wearing fatigues, with the caption: “A special operation was carried out thanks to the SBU [the Security Service of Ukraine]. Well done! Details later.”
Prior to Russia’s invasion, Medvedchuk had faced allegations of treason in Ukraine and had been under house arrest. His whereabouts had been unknown in the weeks following the invasion. Some observers speculated that Medvedchuk or one of his allies might be the Kremlin’s preference to lead a puppet government in Ukraine if the Feb. 24 invasion succeeded in toppling Zelensky.
Putin ties: Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the US in 2014 “for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes.”
But the businessman also served as a go-between for Moscow and Kyiv after the outbreak of the Donbas conflict in 2014 by leveraging his personal ties with Putin. In a 2019 interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone, Putin acknowledged that he was godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter.
“I would not say that we are very close but we know each other well,” Putin said. “He was [former Ukrainian] President [Leonid] Kuchma’s chief of staff, and it was in this capacity at the time that he asked me to take part in the christening of his daughter. According to Russian Orthodox tradition, you can’t refuse such a request.”
Medvedchuk also had notoriety in Ukraine for his role as the Soviet state-appointed defense attorney for the Ukrainian dissident poet Vasyl Stus, who died in a Soviet labor camp in 1985.
In a statement, SBU head Ivan Bakanov said, “You may be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may hide from justice lately. You may even wear a Ukrainian military uniform for camouflage … But will it help you to escape punishment? Not at all! Shackles are waiting for you. And for the same traitors of Ukraine as you!”
Bakanov added, “Pro-Russian traitors and agents of the Russian intelligence services, remember — your crimes have no statute of limitations. And there are no hiding places where we wouldn’t find you!”
CNN was not immediately able to reach a legal representative for Medvedchuk.