Ukraine Sanctions Putin-Friendly Politician, Tycoon Medvedchuk

MINSK — Ukraine has placed sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk, a political heavyweight and tycoon who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a move some see as an attempt by Kyiv to improve relations with the West.

Ukraine’s National Security Council on February 19 announced the sanctions against Medvedchuk, his wife Oksana Marchenko, and several other individuals and entities.

The sanctions freeze the couple’s assets for three years and prevent them from doing business in the country.

The measures are the latest in a series of moves by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration to go after Ukrainian individuals believed to be agents of Moscow following the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on January 20.

“I would see this [action] more as Zelenskiy trying to demonstrate to Washington that he will be a good partner,” John Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and an analyst at the Atlantic Council, said about the timing of the sanctions.

Ukraine on February 2 sanctioned three television stations believed to be owned by Medvedchuk a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had his first call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Medvedchuk is the head of the political council of the pro-Russia Opposition Platform — For Life party, which is the largest opposition group in the Ukrainian parliament. He is one of the party’s 44 deputies in the 450-seat legislature.

The lawmaker has a warm personal relationship with Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.

He was sanctioned by the United States in 2014 for undermining democracy in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian sanctions are tied to an investigation into exports of coal to Russia from a separatist-held region in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.

The conflict erupted after anti-government protests toppled Ukraine’s Russia-friendly former president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014.

With reporting by AP