President Volodymyr Zelenskiy risks another escalation with Russia after Ukrainian authorities charged a Ukrainian oligarch and a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin with treason.
The start of the legal onslaught against Viktor Medvedchuk in February was reportedly one of the triggers behind Moscow massing the largest concentration of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border since the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Mr Medvedchuk, who counts Mr Putin as the godfather of one of his children, has been a divisive figure in Ukrainian politics, openly courting the Kremlin at a time when Ukrainian troops are battling Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east.
Ukrainian prosecutors on Tuesday evening unveiled the details of the treason charges against the 66-year-old oligarch who flaunts his close friendship with the Russian leader who is loathed in Ukraine for having annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
The prosecutors said they suspect Mr Medvedchuk, an opposition MP, of three counts of treason including passing classified information about a secret Ukrainian military unit to Russia and handing over the documents about an offshore oil deposit off Crimea to Russia.
Ivan Bakanov, head of the Ukrainian intelligence agency SBU, told reporters that Mr Medvedchuk last summer passed the classified information about Ukraine’s secret military unit to his ally, MP Taras Kozak, another suspect, who was on a visit in Russia.
“This was some kind of present for the Russian intelligence,” Mr Bakanov said.
Mr Medvedchuk, whose home outside Kyiv and other properties were searched on Tuesday morning, dismissed the charges against him as a “political vendetta for a principled position.”
“I will continue to cooperate with the investigation and seek justice not only for myself but also for all Ukrainian voters,” he said in a statement released late on Tuesday.
The Kremlin on Wednesday raised the alarm about Mr Medvedchuk’s legal troubles.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that the criminal investigation was “Ukraine’s internal matter” but added that Moscow was following the developments closely:
“We would like to make sure that this is not about persecuting a person for his political views or some sort of a campaign to get rid of a political rival.”