Ukrainian authorities announced on Tuesday that they had recaptured Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, after he escaped from house arrest in the early days of Russia’s invasion.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky published photos of the recaptured oligarch on Twitter and Telegram, showing him dressed in a Ukrainian army uniform and with his hands in cuffs. It is unclear why Medvedchuk was wearing a uniform.
In a brief statement, Zelensky attributed Medvedchuk’s capture to a “special operation” conducted by Ukraine’s Security Service. That agency’s director, Ivan Bakanov, claimed that its operatives had recaptured him after a “lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation.”
A native of Russia, Medvedchuk made his fortune in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union and rose to fame after working under pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Leonid Kuchma in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the aftermath of the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014, he founded the “Opposition Platform — For Life” political party, which became the largest pro-Russian party in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Although the party publicly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, it was banned in the aftermath by Ukrainian authorities, who argued that it served as a Russian fifth column within Kyiv.
Medvedchuk is also known to have extremely close ties with Putin, and he is reportedly the godfather of the Russian leader’s youngest daughter, Darya.
The Ukrainian oligarch was imprisoned before the invasion on charges of espionage after he was accused of leaking Ukrainian military information to the Kremlin. It is unknown when he fled his residence, but Ukrainian police first reported him missing on February 26, sparking a chaotic manhunt conducted at the same time as the country’s broader effort to repel the Russian invasion.
Despite the photos released by Zelensky’s office, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov indicated disbelief in Medvedchuk’s capture, claiming that “there are a lot of fakes coming from Ukraine.” Peskov added that Russia would investigate the veracity of Kyiv’s claims before giving its position on the incident.
It is unknown what will happen to Medvedchuk after his recapture, although Zelensky suggested on Wednesday morning that the oligarch might be released to Russia in exchange for Ukrainian prisoners of war.
The Ukrainian leader also cited Medvedchuk’s capture as evidence that Ukraine would successfully apprehend Russian forces who had engaged in looting and other crimes during the invasion. “Even the former oligarch did not escape,” Zelensky said. “What can we say about much simpler criminals from the Russian hinterland? We will get everyone.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.