Viktor Medvedchuk, the most prominent detainee, was released by Ukraine in a prisoner swap with Russia, is a close friend of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who for many years served as the Kremlin’s main body of influence in Ukraine.
Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian politician and oligarch, was given along with Russian pilots and senior military officials, top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday, in exchange for more than The 200 Ukrainian fighters include the commanders of the Azov Battalion, who have been celebrated as heroes in Ukraine for their final unwavering defense of Mariupol. It was the largest prisoner swap in the seven-month war.
Russian officials had previously denied any claims to Mr. Medvedchuk, despite his long-standing relationship with Mr. Putin, the godfather of Mr. Medvedchuk’s daughter. A Kremlin spokesman in May reject the idea about exchanging Mr. Medvedchuk with Ukrainian fighters, saying he had “nothing to do with Russia”, according to Russian state media.
Medvedchuk was arrested by Ukrainian authorities in April after he escaped from house arrest while awaiting trial on charges of treason in a case initiated last year. After he was detained, officials in Ukraine also arrested him some of his huge assetsaccumulated through energy deals with the Kremlin while supporting Russian interests in Ukraine and beyond.
At the time of his arrest, Mr Zelensky had posted a photo showing Mr. Medvedchuk in handcuffs, looking distraught. “Let Medvedchuk be an example for you,” said the Ukrainian leader in a nightly address. Even the former oligarch did not survive.”
A former deputy speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, presidential adviser and negotiator in prisoner exchanges with Russia, Mr. Medvedchuk is a negative figure in Ukraine who favors closer ties with Moscow. . His two-decade friendship with Mr. Putin is well-documented. The Russian president visited Medvedchuk’s lavish Crimean residence in 2012, and a official photo of the Kremlin shows Mr. Medvedchuk with Mr. Putin at a martial arts tournament in 2013.
Mr. Medvedchuk’s influence was so much that his name surfaced in the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. He was a client of Republican political adviser Paul J. Manafort. , who advised pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before becoming Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman.
At that time, the Ukrainian authorities release entries from an accounting document shows that Manafort received $12.7 million from pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. In the midst of an investigation into Russian interference in 2017, Reuters reported that the FBI was examining phone calls and text messages between people close to Mr Trump and people with Putin’s ties, including Mr. Medvedchuk.
Mr Medvedchuk has denied wrongdoing, saying Mr Manafort was only advising his political party on election strategy.
His transfer to Russia could mean he won’t have to stand trial on charges he faces in Ukraine, or be interviewed by investigators from other countries looking into the matter. Russian influence peddling.
Mr Zelensky’s adviser, Andriy Yermak, said in a statement that it was a worthwhile purchase and that Mr Medvedchuk “has given all possible testimony”.