Amid the fighting of the second month of Russian invasion, a video released this Monday (18) by the Armed Forces of Ukraine draws attention. It features billionaire businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, detained by Kiev troops last week, asking the Russian government to exchange his freedom for the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.
On the same day, Russian public television showed a video of two prisoners identified as British Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin. In the footage, the two men detained by the Russian armed forces ask British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate their release in exchange for the oligarch Medvedchuk.
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The man at the center of this hostage exchange is a Ukrainian businessman close to Vladimir Putin. According to Forbes Ukraine magazine, he is among the richest personalities in the country, with a fortune valued at R$3 billion (US$620 million).
Medvedchuk was considered the top man in the Russian government in Kiev and one of the great supporters of the pro-Russian movement in Crimea and Donbass.
A loyal ally, part of the family
The 67-year-old billionaire has had close relations with Vladimir Putin since the early 2000s, when the current Kremlin chief began his first term.
The Ukrainian lawyer “has always been very close to Vladimir Putin and was for a long time his adviser on Ukrainian affairs,” explains Russian geopolitics expert and professor at the University of Montpellier Carole Grimaud Potter.
Medvedchuk boasts of having Putin as godfather to one of his daughters. A family relationship that, “in this clan culture that characterizes post-Soviet republics, implies bonds of loyalty and friendship that go far beyond the formal bond”, explains a report in the newspaper Le Monde.
The billionaire and the Russian president have been photographed together on numerous occasions over the years, often participating in lavish events such as the Formula 1 race in Sochi.
In this July 18, 2019 file photo, Ukrainian business tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, left, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia — Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Pool of the Kremlin via AP
Part of Kiev’s clan of tycoons, the businessman approached political life and was elected deputy in Ukraine’s parliament in the late 1990s. In 2002, he becomes one of the most powerful men in the country when he assumes the position of head of government. of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and is considered Putin’s eyes and ears within Ukraine’s government.
After the defeat of pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych for the presidency, the businessman is accused of abuse of power and money laundering and withdraws from politics, but returns in 2012, denouncing the rapprochement between Ukraine and the European Union.
The businessman then founded the pro-Russian political party “Platform of opposition for life”, which until the beginning of the war had around 30 deputies elected to Parliament.
Medvedchuk also controlled three television channels in Ukraine, accused by the Zelensky government of spreading Russian propaganda in the country.
In 2021, the stations were closed and identified as “one of the instruments of war against Ukraine”. The Kiev government also hijacked his family’s assets, such as a pipeline that transported Russian oil to Europe.
From accused of justice to prisoner of war
Oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk is pictured in the Office of the President of Ukraine, April 12, 2022 — Photo: Presidential Office of Ukraine via AP
In May 2021, the businessman is accused of treason to the Ukrainian state and attempted theft of Crimean goods and is placed under house arrest in Kiev, despite rejecting the crimes.
Earlier this year, while a Russian invasion was just a possibility, the United States accused Medvedchuk of being involved with Russian intelligence services and pointed to him as a possible name to assume power in the country in the event of an occupation by the Putin government.
After the Russian invasion in February, the businessman managed to flee his home in Kiev and spent more than a month missing as the war ravaged entire Ukrainian cities.
Last Tuesday (12), however, Ukrainian secret services found the tycoon in his hiding place and announced his capture with a photo in which he appears, thin, dressed in military clothes.
Ukrainian forces celebrated the arrest: “You can be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You can run away. You can even wear a Ukrainian uniform to go unnoticed. But will that help you escape punishment? Absolutely not,” said the text posted on the Telegram app after his arrest.
Despite the text promising his punishment, the prisoner was subsequently offered as a bargaining chip by the Ukrainian president for soldiers and civilians imprisoned in Russia. On the 54th day of fighting, the offer now made calls for the release of the Ukrainians surrounded by the Russian army in Mariupol.
For specialist Grimaud Potter, the proposal may have an effect. “I think Putin would be interested in making this exchange because Medvedchuk is a close friend,” he says, “But maybe he wants to buy time and not do it under Ukrainian pressure, but make the exchange at another time, under other circumstances”, he ponders. .