Of all the articles published on the Trump-Russia scandal, Reuters’ piece Thursday is one of the most important. The article names Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch, as one of the Trump campaign’s contacts. He is likely to be the missing link in the Trump-Russia drama. Needless to say, Medvedchuk denied having any contact with anyone in the Trump campaign.
Medvedchuk, 62, is one of the most controversial characters in Ukrainian business and politics, accused of being involved in all kinds of intrigues and some violent crimes, but as a good lawyer would, he has sued for libel and won in Ukrainian courts. In the early 1990s, Medvedchuk emerged as one of the first oligarchs, making a fortune on trading Russian gas in Ukraine.
Next, he set up his political party. It was called the Social Democratic Party, but, in reality, it could have been called the Oligarchic Business Party. Medvedchuk was first elected to parliament in 1997, and he maintained a regional stronghold in Transcarpathia, located in Western Ukraine.
Medvedchuk became one of the key operators in Ukrainian politics. He headed the presidential administration from 2002 to 2005, and though Leonid Kuchma was president at the time, Medvedchuk was perceived to hold an equal amount of power. He was also the leading pro-Kremlin hardliner.
Medvedchuk was accused of censoring the Ukrainian media, and he was the main author of the revised Ukrainian constitution in December 2004, which is full of seemingly intentional inconsistencies. He was one of the main enemies of the democratic Orange Revolution, which finished his outward political career.
Since then, Medvedchuk has been President Vladimir Putin’s personal representative in Ukraine. Putin is even godfather to his daughter, which is of great importance in Russia and Ukraine. Medvedchuk is chairman of the pro-Russian political organization, Ukrainian Choice, which has repeatedly pursued costly advertising campaigns against the European Union.
In 2012, when Putin flew to Crimea to visit then-President Viktor Yanukovych, he decided to have dinner with Medvedchuk instead. Medvedchuk appears to be the only person Putin trusts in Ukraine. In 2013, the respected local newspaper in Kiev, Kyiv Post, called Medvedchuk “the undisputed leader of Russia’s fifth column in Ukraine.”
Time and again, Putin has called on both Ukraine and Germany to make Medvedchuk the Ukrainian representative in the Minsk negotiations on Russia’s aggression in Eastern Ukraine. Recently, it was rumored that Putin tried to convince the leaders of the eastern Ukrainian political party, the Opposition Bloc, to accept Medvedchuk as a co-chair, but the current pro-Russian leaders allegedly opposed that proposal because they knew Medvedchuk is virtually unelectable.
Appropriately, Medvedchuk was one of the first people to be sanctioned by the U.S. government in March 2014 for his role in the Russian annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. Treasury was uncommonly harsh in its verdict: “Medvedchuk, leader of Ukrainian Choice, is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes.
“He is also being designated because he has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support to Yanukovych and because he is a leader of an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine and actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the Treasury’s statement concluded.
Paul Manafort worked as Viktor Yanukovych’s top political advisor for nearly a decade. He and Medvedchuk must know each other well, performing similar functions for Yanukovych. The Reuters article does not state who talked with Medvedchuk, but presumably it was Manafort. Medvedchuk has Putin’s full confidence and can reach Putin whenever he so desires.
If Robert Mueller, as special counsel for the Trump-Russia probe, can establish contacts between Medvedchuk and the Trump campaign, he has probably found the smoking gun, and he will have made the case for collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Anders Åslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He worked as an economic advisor to the president of Ukraine from 1994-97. He is a leading specialist on economic policy in Russia, Ukraine and East Europe. Åslund has written two books on Ukraine, including, “Ukraine: What Went Wrong and How to Fix it.”
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