Ukraine’s takes long-overdue action against major domestic pro-Russian actors

2021/02/27 – 11:38 – Euromaidan Press

In terms of fighting Russia’s influence inside Ukraine, this February has been the most eventful month since the beginning of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presidential term so far. Why had Ukraine hesitated to sanction top-tier pro-Russian actors before and can current measures blunt Russia’s influence on Ukrainian politics?

On 2 February, the Ukrainian president enacted a decision of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) to sanction MP Taras Kozak and his national TV channels ZIK, 112, and NewsOne for five years.

Kozak is a legislator from the major openly pro-Russian party Opposition Bloc – For Life (OPFL), one of the bigwigs of which, MP Viktor Medvedchuk is widely believed to be the real owner of the sanctioned TV channels. Medvedchuk has been a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On 16 February, the Security Service of Ukraine issued a notice of suspicion of high treason and inciting enmity to Anatoliy Shariy, the leader of a minor pro-Russian party, which failed to win seats in the parliament, yet made it into several local councils in the east and south of Ukraine.

And on 19 February, NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov made public the decision of the Council to impose three-year sanctions not only on Medvedchuk himself but also on his wife Oksana Marchenko, and also on Taras Kozak’s common-law wife, five Russian citizens, and 19 entities linked to the Medvedchuk family. On the next day, President Zelenskyy approved the NSDC decision.

The wives of the politicians were sanctioned as far as they nominally own businesses of their husbands. For example, in 2019 Medvedchuk divulged that he re-registered his businesses in the name of Oksana Marchenko due to the sanctions imposed by the US on him in 2014,

“My wife doesn’t do business, she owns businesses, but I manage them. Why can’t I own a business? Because my ‘darling’ Americans sanctioned me in March 2014. This explains the peculiarities of the businesses owned by my family now.”

Under Ukrainian law, Ukraine normally sanctions foreign nationals while Ukrainian citizens can only fall under domestic sanctions in case they are engaged in financing terrorism, and this is exactly the case here, according to Danilov,

“The Security Service of Ukraine is currently conducting criminal proceedings under Article 258 Part 5, this is financing terrorism. Accordingly, under this article, sanctions were applied to Ms. Marchenko, to all relevant persons listed, as well as to Mr. Medvedchuk. This is financing terrorism,” the NSDC secretary stressed at the press briefing where he announced the sanctions against Medvedchuk.

The Sociological Group Rating’s survey of 22-23 February found that more than half of Ukrainians (58%) support NSDC sanctions against Medvedchuk and his wife Marchenko, while 28% are against it. Among those who are well aware of this decision, the support rating is even higher (73%) with 23% opposing the sanctions.

Why Ukraine didn’t sanction Medvedchuk and pro-Russian TV before

Post-Maidan Ukrainian authorities had to deal with hybrid Russian aggression which included not only hostilities on the battlefield, but also Russia’s economic attacks, political pressure, cyber-attacksmassive propaganda campaign aimed at undermining the popular confidence in government and state institutions.

Following the victory of the Revolution of Dignity in early 2014, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych left Ukraine, and so did the most odious of his ministers such as PM Mykola Azarov, Minister of Interior Vitaly Zakharchenko, Vice-PM Serhiy Arbuzov, and many others. Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions broke up into several smaller parties, however, retaining its core membership and electorate under the brand of the Opposition Platform.

Ukrainian law enforcers were investigating fugitive officials and later a court tried ex-President Yanukovych in absentia and found him guilty of high treason. However, most of his party leaders remained in Ukraine and continued their activities without any serious consequences for them.

Despite being sanctioned by the US for his involvement in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin’s crony Viktor Medvedchuk not only avoided persecution in Ukraine, but later even became one of the Ukrainian mediators who negotiated prisoner exchanges with Russia and its forces in the Donbas.

Then-President Petro Poroshenko argued at the end of his term that Medvedchuk’s participation in the talks was due to the fact that he was the only channel of communication with Putin at the time, although he later proved ineffective.

Ukraine was on the edge of economic collapse and in order to retain Western support, had to act with a careful eye to political and public opinions in the West. This made it next to impossible to eliminate to influence of the local pro-Russian actors as any of the restrictions could have been perceived as political persecution and attacks on free speech by the West.

For example, when Ukraine expelled Russian journalists or denied them entry for anti-Ukrainian propaganda, human rights organizations often criticized these measures seeing them as a threat to media freedom.

And in 2017, when Ukraine effectively banned Russian social networks and other web services by a decision to sanction Russian internet companies, as a threat to national security and a tool of Russian hybrid warfare against Ukraine, the decision was harshly criticized in Ukraine and abroad.

Reporters Without Borders considered the ban a “disproportionate measure that seriously undermines the Ukrainian people’s right to information and freedom of expression” and US-based Human Rights Watch said the step “dealt a terrible blow to freedom of expression in Ukraine,” urging then-President Poroshenko to “immediately reverse the ban… and take steps to protect freedom of expression and information in Ukraine.”

This particular measure didn’t weaken the political and economic support of Ukraine in the West back then. However, the Ukrainian leadership could have been afraid that more serious steps involving bans on local TV stations could cause issues for Ukraine internationally.

In October 2018, in response to a petition that demanded to shut down pro-Russian Ukrainian TV channels 112 and NewsOne, the Parliament adopted a resolution recommending the NSDC sanction these stations.

Yet the sanctions on the channels and their owners were never imposed back then. On the one hand, due to the lack of legal mechanisms — as Ukraine can sanction its citizens only if those finance terrorism (which is reportedly the case now). On the other hand, the presidential campaign was set to kick off two months later and, as then-President Poroshenko later stated, shutting down the channels at the time could have been considered as a political move to silence criticism,

“The closure of the channels during the elections would create a fundamental problem with admitting those as fair and transparent. We postponed this to the post-election period. But Mr. Zelenskyy won the election. And, by the way, all three channels supported him,” Poroshenko wrote on his Facebook page commenting on the recent sanctions against the mentioned 112, NewsOne, and the third channel Zik, purchased by Medvedchuk companies after the 2019 elections.

What changed now

In September 2020, the US Treasury sanctioned Ukrainian independent MP Andriy Derkach for his alleged attempt to influence the 2020 US presidential election as a Russian agent. Later in early January 2021, the agency put on the sanctions list members of “Derkach’s inner circle,” including several former Ukrainian officials and current MP Oleksandr Dubinskyi (Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party).

The Derkach case showed the Western public that pro-Russian forces in Ukraine can affect not only local politics but also act as a Russian tool against Western democracies. This made it possible for the Ukrainian leadership to take measures against the Russian influence within Ukraine with less concern over the reaction of the West.

As for Medvedchuk, if the Security Service of Ukraine has really found solid evidence, as the NSDC states it, that his companies trade with the occupied territories, then this very fact has given the legal possibility to impose sanctions against him as a Ukrainian citizen.

Shariy

Last week, when the dust settled after the sanctioning of three pro-Russian TV stations and their owner Kozak, President Zelenskyy sanctioned Medvedchuk.

These two major developments eclipsed the last week’s other instance of another long-overdue decision — the Security Service (SBU) served a notice of suspicion of high treason and inciting enmity to Anatoliy Shariy, a pro-Russian Youtuber and the founder of a pro-Russian party in Ukraine living in Spain.

Given Ukraine’s unsuccessful experiences of extraditing suspects from the EU (see Firtash), it’s hard to predict whether Shariy will get away with the SBU charges or to face deportation and/or a trial.

Nevertheless, Shariy’s case is telling about Ukraine’s weak response to pro-Russian activities within the country even after Russia had annexed the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014 and unleashed the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine.

Suspected of a shooting incident in a cafe, Shariy managed to gain asylum in the EU, claiming to be persecuted for his journalist activities. He later became a popular video blogger and even founded his very own pocket pro-Russian party in Ukraine.

On 16 February, the Security Service of Ukraine reported on their website that the agency served a notice of suspicion to Ukrainian national Anatoliy Shariy, called in the English-version of the report a Russian propagandist.

“The investigators allege that he conducted subversive activities against Ukraine in the information sphere. There is a reason to believe that Anatolii Sharii acted on behalf of foreign security services,” the report reads.

SBU says it has issued the notice under the supervision of the Kyiv City Prosecutor’s Office based on the probe into high treason and violation of equality of citizens. In particular, the agency, says, Shariy “incited national, racial, or religious hatred, the humiliation of national honor and dignity, etc.”

As soon as his name was removed from Ukraine’s wanted list in spring 2019, Anatoliy Shariy, while still hiding in the EU, managed to remotely launch his namesake party. It came in 10th in the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary elections with 2.23% of votes failing to pass the 5% threshold. Later, it managed to win a total of only 52 councilor seats out of 42,501 in local councils of village, city, raion, and oblast levels across Ukraine at the 2020 elections.

In one of his comments to Russian TV channel Rossiya-24 amid his local elections campaign, Viktor Medvedchuk openly admitted the Party of Shariy as an ally of his pro-Russian Opposition Bloc – For Life party,

“We definitely don’t see Mr. Shariy and his party as a rival, … [as judged by] the ideology espoused by the Shariy Party… we understand that they are our allies.”

Legal prospects of the sanctions

Ukraine media watchdog Detector Media surveyed legal experts on the issue of the domestic sanctions against Medvedchuk, his entourage and TV channels. According to the lawyers, it is hard to evaluate their overall prospects in Ukrainian courts.

But based on the scarce information available, the experts assert that the sanctions are likely to have a leg to stand on in Ukrainian courts, but hardly in international ones.

Lawyers also unanimously insist that law enforcement officers should investigate criminal cases and bring these cases to courts, which is the case with Shariy now. The more so that SBU informed earlier that since 2019 it was probing Medvedchuk and Kozak for alleged “preparing high treason,” “acquisition of corporate rights to create media resources,” and “legalization of criminal proceeds.” Now, the suspected financing of terrorism should have been added to the list of allegations.

It is unlikely that the European courts would deliver quick judgments, which gives Ukraine time to make the sanctions irreversible in order to prevent Medvedchuk from “sticking new labels on old companies.” That’s why lawyers advise working on these issues comprehensively at the legislative level so that Ukraine work out mechanisms necessary to further deter Russian agents.NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov has promised more domestic sanctions in the near future, particularly against unnamed people’s deputies.

Whatever the effects of the ongoing sanctions campaign, Ukraine doesn’t ban pro-Russian parties which are going to remain a formidable political force in the upcoming years.

20 comments

  • These treasonous Moskali better not be able to bribe any Ukrainian judges because these RuSSians need to be exposed and sent home.

    Liked by 4 people

  • The first and overriding priority of any government is to protect its citizens. It will be failing in its duty unless it extirpates the putler parliamentary bloc completely. If it can (rightly) ban the communist party, it can ban the fascist putinoid parties, because they are beavering away at reversing Ukraine back into Russia. That simply cannot be allowed to happen. The same process is happening in Georgia: the putlerites are slowly choking the Georgians’ freedom to death.
    It is sickening that Bush 2, Obama, Trump and Biden have been presiding over the slow destruction of freedom in Georgia, Ukraine and Armenia.
    Nothing that these idiots did (or did not do in the case of Bush and Obama) had even the slightest effect on putler’s calculations.
    In the 1990’s, Slobodan Milosevic began an expansionist trajectory: his plan was to reassemble Yugoslavia in his own image as a ‘greater Serbia’. This was being expedited according to him, in order to ‘protect ethnic Serbians’. This of course entailed torture, imprisonment and lots of murdering of political opponents and innocent civilians. Remind you of anyone? He was not allowed to get away with it. Clinton did the only decent thing he ever did in his miserable life and put a stop to it. Milosevic ended up in The Hague, but cheated justice by dying. Fuhrer putler in his 20 years, has inflicted a much greater death toll, but got clean away with it. Furthermore, the bastard enjoys a cult following amongst a certain type of people in the west. Or ‘cunts’ as I call them. This is an atrocious state of affairs. One rule for one, one rule for another.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes. Even looking at 2008 in retrospective, it doesn’t look like any of the players have any regrets for what happened…which explains a lot when it comes to what is happening today. I would say though, Europe should be leading on this, it is your neighborhood. There seems to be a tendency to see what the USA will do but I can tell you we would rather walk beside you and carry a big fucking stick.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Britain would love to do it, but does not have a fraction of the necessary military and political power. We can defend ourselves more than adequately, but we don’t have the capability for expeditionary actions without US help.
        We had a lot more power in 1939, but it was not enough to defeat the axis powers. Then, as of now, Europe was crawling with fascist sympathisers, communists and idiots who will do nothing even if putler starts eating babies.
        It is up to America to put things right.

        Liked by 4 people

        • I think we share the same wish but who has more reason and justification to respond? Someone next door to the torture chambers or someone thousands of miles away? Where was Cameron? Where was Blair? Where was Merkel? Where was Hollande? Kaczyński?

          Liked by 4 people

          • There is no anti-putler power in Europe. None whatsoever except Britain and Poland. Forget Germany and France.
            Blair went to meet putler, decided he was a good guy and invited him for a full state visit to Britain. The cunt even stayed in Buckingham Palace. This was not long after the sacking of Grozny. Later, Bush went to Moscow and came up with the ‘I have looked into his eyes’ bullshit, which was as damaging as his father’s terrible ‘Chicken Kiev’ speech. (The spelling of that time).
            When putler invaded Georgia, Cammers was the only one to object. But he was only opposition leader at that time. He did however visit Georgia and managed to get some humane support.
            Then in 2014, Cammers and his Foreign Secretary William Hague were the only European leaders to support Ukraine. (Apart from Poland and Pribaltika). We gave more financial, humane and military support than any other European country. Hundreds of our officers and trainers are still there to this day and Ukraine wants them to remain indefinitely.
            We are currently building five warships for the Ukrainian navy and will be training their shipbuilders to build more of their own.
            Boris promised Zel that he would get some of the Oxford vaccine; some free and some at cost price. That still has not happened yet unfortunately. But I hope it will do soon.
            We can forget about the EU and Nato; they are both moribund and crawling with rat sympathisers.
            The Budapest signatories alone can get putler off the occupied lands, but nothing will happen until or unless the US gets a president of the calibre of John McCain. Mike Pompeo might be a possibility, but I prefer Marco Rubio.
            Of the right wing talk show hosts in America, there is only one who is openly critical of putler; even calls it a fascist regime. I refer to the excellent Mark Levin, who might be able to pick up some of the followers of the late Rush Limbaugh. All the others are pro-putler or indifferent and that is a big problem for Ukraine.

            Liked by 4 people

          • As a Budapest Memorandum signatory the United States is legally obliged to defend Ukraine’s borders. It did not disturb Washington to be thousands of miles away when it stripped Kyiv of its nuclear weapons and denied Ukraine a seat in the UNSC by recognizing only Muscovy as the single successor of the USSR. Therefore one MUST expect the United States to stay actively involved and not to pin Ukraine’s destiny on the Putler-asslickers in the EU! Cheers!

            Liked by 4 people

        • Unfortunately, you are very right about that, Mr. Scradge. Europe has become a deplorable conglomerate of pathetic cowards and wannabes. Those who believe that the EU could be a counterbalance to the other great powers – the US and China – are blind to the fact that those running the EU show are only holding limp dicks in their hands. There is a long list of failures that have utterly disgraced the continent. Its main feature nowadays is taking in and harboring the huge surplus of people coming from third-world regions. It is committing self-immolation and thus it can never be counted on to be a true adversary of a Putin even if he’s rattling with only a little rusty brittle sword.

          Liked by 3 people

  • Certain positive things in Ukraine are finally getting done. Certainly, fighting these pro-Ruskie shit nuggets has a pretty high priority for Ukraine, in particular when seeing all the negatives that mafia land means for the country.
    However, it is more than bitter when one is made aware of the unfavorable role that Europe plays in the affairs of Ukraine and mafia land. Take this quote, for example: “Given Ukraine’s unsuccessful experiences of extraditing suspects from the EU (see Firtash), it’s hard to predict whether Shariy will get away with the SBU charges or to face deportation and/or a trial.” Currently, there is no other place on earth that is filled with more hypocrites and sackless cowards than Europe. They ofttimes totally ignore the hard struggle that Ukraine is going through, by enemies within and outside its borders. Who would have guessed that the same Europe, which drools and slobbers for “human rights”, against “corruption”, for “freedom” and against “injustice” could harbor so many pro-Putin bacteria and throws so many wrenches into Ukraine’s gearbox of reforms and struggle for freedom and prosperity! I used to think differently about Europe but Ukraine and its last seven years of history have taught me a harsh lesson about this fucked-up entity. It has opened my eyes to this place once and for all. And, it’s mainly because there are no politicians there worth a damned.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I got your point, it is almost as though they seek the human rights but they don’t want to fight for them. Right? With Putin they give him “off ramps” or chances to “save face.” But they are worried about upsetting his tender thoughts. The same with Iran, they want to take over the world and certainly would use nukes if they had them…but…despite Trump’s sanctions on Iran, most European politicians still believe the Iranians are being honest and open about their inspections. They obviously don’t know Iranians who take great pleasure in lying to infidels.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Exactly, Red. Today’s Europe would have only dialogue for a Hitler or a Stalin. Heck, they’d offer dialogue even to Satan. They have lost all manner of Realpolitik.

        Liked by 3 people

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