The head of Ukraine’s largest opposition party, Viktor Medvedchuk, has railed against Kiev’s decision to prosecute him for ‘high treason,’ insisting the charges are politically motivated and a reaction to his growing popularity.
Speaking at a court hearing in the Ukrainian capital on Friday, the MP rejected allegations that he is an agent of Russian influence in the country, arguing instead that he represents a significant portion of the electorate that are unhappy with the current government. “I completely throw out accusations of so-called pro-Russianness,” he said. “Our party received millions of votes of confidence during the last elections.” He added that recent polls had shown his party, Opposition Platform – For Life, has significantly increased its standing with the electorate.
The political group draws much of its support from Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east and south of the country, where many believe that Ukraine’s attempt to turn Westwards after the 2014 Maidan has been a mistake.
Medvedchuk’s lawyers are looking to overturn a decision to place him under round-the-clock house arrest while prosecutors prepare a case against him. As well as high treason, the politician stands accused of plundering national resources – an allegation believed to be linked to supposed business interests in Crimea that were re-registered in Russia after the peninsula was reabsorbed into Russia in 2014. However, the evidence for the charges has not been made available, and Medvedchuk insists that his detention is unfounded and illegal. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
In an exclusive interview in February, the opposition leader told RT that political prosecution for “crimes like treason and espionage is commonplace” in Ukraine, but said he would not consider fleeing the country. “I feel like I’m ready to fight – to fight against arbitrariness, against repression, against falsification… I am prepared to stand up to these threats,” he said.
When sanctions against him were first announced, Medvedchuk issued a fiery statement in which he accused the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of taking the country “down the path of establishing a “dictatorship and usurping power.” The government was, he insisted, “seeking to crack down on the parliamentary opposition legally elected by the Ukrainian people.”
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A poll published when Medvedchuk was first charged claimed that a majority of Ukrainians agreed with the action Kiev was taking against him and his family. However, he told RT that, although “they say 58% agree with the sanctions,” those surveyed “have not seen any evidence or arguments,” suggesting it was a purely political spat.
Announcing the treason charges earlier this month, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova said that she hoped they would demonstrate that “you cannot consider Crimea to be part of another state.”
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