He was identified as one of several oligarch candidates to lead a puppet government after a successful Russian seizure of Kyiv.
Medvedchuk is the leader of the Opposition Platform for Life, Ukraine’s biggest opposition party. In March, the party was one of several that Zelenskiy suspended due to its links to Russia. Ukrainian authorities had put Medvedchuk under house arrest, but he escaped three days after Russia invaded Ukraine 24 February. His whereabouts had been unknown until today’s announcement.
Why it matters: Medvedchuk's friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin stretches back years, and in 2021 the U.S. warned that Medvedchuk was on a “short list” of politicians that Russia would like to see replace Zelensky in the case of a coup, the Washington Post reported.
- Medvedchuk has even said that Putin is his daughter's godfather, per Reuters.
Catch up quick: Medvedchuk was placed under house arrest last year after Ukrainian authorities opened a treason case against him, Reuters reported.
- Medvedchuk allegedly escaped his house arrest at the end of February, in the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though his lawyer denied the allegation, saying his client had simply been relocated due to safety concerns, per Reuters.
State of play: "A special operation was carried out thanks to the SBU," Zelensky wrote, referring to the Security Service of Ukraine, alongside a photo of Medvedchuk in handcuffs and wearing an army uniform.
- "Well done! Details later," Zelensky added.
In Ukraine, Medvedchuk is considered an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, whom Medvedchuk has referred to as "a personal friend". Some foreign commentators have also called him Putin's closest ally in Ukraine. Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk's youngest daughter.
Medvedchuk was considered the main behind-the-scenes man of then-Prime Minister and pro-Kuchma presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, which was nicknamed the "battle of three Viktors" after them and their main opponent Yushchenko.
In one instance, Medvedchuk paid a "huge amount of money" to the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People's Self-Defence leader Eduard Kovalenko to hold a march supporting Yushchenko against his wishes. The march included Nazi-like flags and symbols, and Kovalenko used a Nazi salute in his support speech. The move was meant to discredit the democratic candidate (Yushchenko) in the eyes of Western observers.
Medvedchuk is chairman of the pro-Russian political organization Ukrainian Choice. In 2013, he began publicly attacking the European Union, at one point comparing it to the Nazi Third Reich.
Medvedchuk was an open and bitter critic of the Euromaidan protest campaign of November 2013-February 2014 (initially aimed at reverting the second Azarov government decision to suspend preparations for signing an Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union). On 30 November, he condemned a series of protests, known as Euromaidan that supported closer ties between Ukraine and the EU. After one of his December 2013 meetings with Russia's president Vladimir Putin, Medvedchuk publicly promised to "deal with" pro-European protesters in Ukraine.
Activists of Euromaidan alleged that Medvedchuk was among the masterminds of 25 December 2013 attempted murder of Ukrainian journalist Tetiana Chornovol. They call him a "perpetrator" and link his name to the all bloody events of the government strike against the Euromaidan. Considering all Medvedchuk's recent activity directed to push Ukraine into the economic union with Russia, the Euromaidan activists came to one of the Medvedchuks' villas to protest.
On 17 March 2014 the United States placed Medvedchuk on its sanction list to punish him for his alleged role during the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Since the March 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, Crimea is under dispute by Russia and Ukraine. In an August 2016 interview with Radio Svoboda, Medvedchuk stated the from legal point of view, Crimea was part of Ukraine, "but de facto, unfortunately, it belongs to Russia."
During a massive build-up of Russian troops around Ukraine's borders in the first weeks of 2022, Medvedchuk was one of two people (the other one being Oleg Tsaryov) identified by the United States intelligence community as a possible Kremlin-supported choice to lead a pro-Russia puppet Ukrainian government.[a]
On the opening day of the invasion, 24 February 2022, some analysts expected that Putin may have wanted to install Medvedchuk as president of Ukraine if Russian forces captured Kyiv.[b]