Zelensky Floats Prisoner Swap for Putin Ally Viktor Medvedchuk

Zelensky Floats Prisoner Swap for Putin Ally Viktor Medvedchuk

Russia may believe that it cannot exchange Ukrainian prisoners for Medvedchuk without implicitly conceding that he is acting as a Russian asset.


The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has arrested Ukrainian opposition politician and Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk.

The circumstances behind Medvedchuk’s arrest on Tuesday have not been independently confirmed. The SBU says Medvedchuk, who faces treason charges, was captured after escaping house arrest in an attempt to flee the country. Medvedchuk, recently pictured in military fatigues appearing gaunt and harried, denies any wrongdoing.


Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian oligarch and leading opposition politician known for his close ties to the Kremlin. Russian president Vladimir Putin is even the godfather to Medvechuk’s daughter, Daria.

Medvechuk’s wife, Oksana Marchenko, issued a statement demanding his immediate release. "I, Oksana Marchenko, the wife of Ukrainian parliament member Viktor Medvedchuk, request President Zelensky to take all the necessary measures for the immediate release of my husband Viktor Medvedchuk who is being illegally detained by the SBU," she said, adding that Medvechuk "neither violated Ukrainian laws nor left the country.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has offered to exchange Medvechuk for Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs). The precise terms of the proposal remain unclear, but Zelensky’s phrasing appeared to suggest that he wants to swap Medvedchuk for all Ukrainian POWs currently held by Russian forces, which would be a nonstarter for Moscow.

Medvedchuk’s allies and Russian sources have speculated that he was arrested in the opening stages of the war, but that Kiev waited for an opportune time to announce his capture. Russian commentators claim the Zelensky administration seeks to head off the negative international press and domestic turmoil that are sure to accompany the imminent fall of Mariupol, the besieged port hub in southeastern Ukraine, by generating explosive headlines with a prisoner swap proposal they know will be rejected by Russia.

The deputy director of the CIS Countries Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, suggested to Russian state media outlet TASS that the true intent behind Kiev’s proposal is to rescue the high-ranking military personnel, including alleged foreign officials, trapped in Mariupol. “All this fuss is not about the rank-and-file, who in fact have already been written off. In focus there are very concrete people,” he said. “Apparently, Medvedchuk, or the person whom they present as Medvedchuk, is their last attempt to achieve the release of the high-ranking foreign nationals.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shot down the proposal on Wednesday. “As for the [prisoner] swap that is being discussed so passionately by various Ukrainian officials—Medvedchuk is not a Russian citizen. He has no connection with the special military operation [in Ukraine]. He is a foreign politician,” Peskov said.

Russia may believe that it cannot exchange Ukrainian servicemen for Medvedchuk without implicitly conceding that he—a Ukrainian citizen—is acting as a Russian asset in some form, a charge that both Moscow and Medvedchuk have long denied. It is unclear whether or not Medvedchuk, who has long harbored presidential ambitions, would agree to take part in any such prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.