Ukraine: Zelensky contra Medvedchuk

In late January-early February 2021, President Volodymyr Zelensky quite unexpectedly imposed personal sanctions on well-known opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko, and related businesses for a period of three years. The sanctions include an almost complete ban on the use of financial and tangible assets. An important component of the sanctions was the five-year blockade of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK television channels owned by V. Medvedchuk. The official reason for such actions of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, supported by the President, was the accusation of “terrorist financing”. V. Medvedchuk himself denies all accusations and believes that the main purpose of such actions of the authorities against him is to try to force him to stop political activity or even leave the country.

The imposed sanctions as a tool for the real fight against “terrorist financiers” have certain limitations in effectiveness because, for example, according to the declaration, V. Medvedchuk and his family have significant amounts of cash, which allows to circumvent the ban on the use of bank accounts. Thus, V.Medvedchuk declared cash in the amount of 210 thousand dollars, and his wife – 1.8 million euros. Similarly, blocking the use of aircraft will not be able to prevent the movement of the politician and his wife.

What is the real reason for the sanctions?

There are at least three of them. First, V. Zelensky wants to emphasize that there are no inviolable persons for his administration and any politician, despite his influence and connections, can become a target of law enforcement agencies. Such actions are fully invested in efforts to strengthen the president’s influence on the processes in Ukraine and to prove that V. Zelensky turns into a real politician. The second reason for imposing sanctions on Medvedchuk may be an attempt to emphasize the friendly attitude to the newly elected administration of J. Biden, rehabilitating for disloyal actions of the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office to investigate the case of the son of US President Hunter Biden and Burisma Group. In addition, V. Zelensky wants to demonstrate to American partners his determination to fight corruption and the “fifth column” of the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian government. It should be noted that the American leadership welcomed the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities, as evidenced by the reaction of the US Embassy in Kyiv.

However, the most important reason for active action against V. Medvedchuk is the attempt to lower the rating of him personally and his political force OPZZh, which ranks second or third in opinion polls, given the rather rapid decline in personal ratings of the incumbent president and the party  Sluha Narodu. In this context, the most important part of the sanctions is the blow to the media empire of V. Medvedchuk. According to many analysts, the cessation of broadcasting of three television channels could significantly lower the rating of Medvedchuk and his political force in the medium term.

Prolonged preparation of this decision by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC) with the involvement of the Security Service of Ukraine and other law enforcement agencies suggests that it was prepared carefully and efficiently. Otherwise, charges and blocking of property and funds can be successfully lifted through the courts. It is obvious that in the case of V.Medvedchuk’s appeal to the judicial authorities, the prosecution will use the important materials obtained during the investigation.

If we reject the already mentioned political motives for imposing sanctions, we can assume that they are not just necessary, but also somewhat belated. Until recently, the channels controlled by V. Medvedchuk quite actively and unsuccessfully posed a real threat to the national security of the state, promoting Russian narratives and interpretations of events in and around Ukraine. Firms owned by Medvedchuk and his family, registered in Russia, regularly replenish the Russian budget, in addition, law enforcement agencies have information about the active activities of Medvedchuk’s business structures in the occupied territories. Another indirect evidence of the correctness of the actions of the Ukrainian authorities towards the opposition politician can be the lack of negative reaction from the Ukrainian public.

Sergiy Fedunyak, Doktor of Science (Political Science), Professor of Yuriy Fed’kovych Chernivtsi National University, Director of Strategic Projects NGO «Center of Political Narratives of Democracy»

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