Why does the Kremlin need Medvedchuk? He gave for him, inter alia, 108 soldiers of Azov

The handover of the prisoners of war from Azovstala is all the more surprising as they were to have a public show trial in the demolished theater in Mariupol, which was being prepared for the occasion.

Could that be the Ukrainian price for the release Wiktor Medvedczuk, a businessman, a politician holding very high positions in previous administrations in Kiev, and the founder of a pro-Russian party that had a large faction in the Ukrainian parliament? And Putin’s man – the Russian president is his daughter’s godfather. For this reason, Medvedchuk is called Putin’s kum.

In 2021, he was accused of high treason and placed under house arrest. After the Russian invasion, he tried to flee, was detained on April 12 and arrested.

Why did the Kremlin decide to replace the Mariupol fighters with Medvedchuk? Is there any political goal in this? And why is this exchange taking place right now?

Russian journalist Masha Makarova talked to the Russian political scientist, Ivan Preobrażeński.


Masha Makarova, OKO.press: How did this exchange of prisoners even become possible on the day Putin announces mobilization to fight the “neo-Nazis”? After all, it also gives back to Ukraine the Azovians, who for the Kremlin propaganda are the epitome of the so-called ukrnazists? How does this relate to the logic of the Kremlin?

Ivan Preobrażeński: It fits perfectly in it. The point is that for two months now the Kremlin has been trying to push through negotiations with Ukraine on its own terms in order to freeze the conflict for a while.

There are many reasons for this. I think that these are primarily economic reasons – the Russian economy does not withstand the sanctions imposed on it. The army does not withstand hostilities. Therefore, it is necessary to announce mobilization and maintain the front so that there is something to negotiate and bargain about.

For the same reason, the so-called referenda, the results of which will be presented to us soon, although we know in advance what the results will be.

In the case of the exchange of prisoners, we saw that there were intermediaries involved – Erdoğan, the Saudi prince, and maybe someone else. The Kremlin is trying to negotiate a truce. To show that you are capable of negotiation, he has to make gestures such as the one with the exchange.

And how will the so-called Z-public, actively supporting the war? Everyone was waiting for the trial on Azov in Mariupol, for public execution. It is now known that Azov’s leaders are in Turkey, they have been named. Will the supporters of the war go on such a slap to the front, or will they be terribly offended by Putin?

The public has no choice but to go to war. They’re mostly conformists. They will do what the authority does because they are part of the authority, its radical wing.

After the defeat in Kharkiv, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov gently but very clearly made it clear – do not interfere, you have nothing to say about mobilization, it will be Vladimir Putin who will decide whether to carry it out or not. And you have no need to criticize the special military operation.

This did not apply to liberal critics of the war at all. It was about the collective Margarita Simonjan [naczelną anglojęzycznej telewizji RT, jedną z głównych propagandystek]which together with Vladimir Sołowiow [głównym propagandystą mediów rządowych] she understood the signal well. They don’t really have any ideological beliefs. Most of them are paid propagandists, they quickly reorganized, changed their minds on the fly. And those who did not understand that they should quietly support the authorities and stay out of the way will be punished publicly.

So there is no significant change in mood here. There was an exchange and that’s it. Vladimir Putin knows better why it had to be done.

Why did Moscow replace Viktor Medvedchuk, giving – as the Ukrainian side says – 200 soldiers for him? Why did the Kremlin need him so badly?

Medvedchuk, at least in the past, was a person personally close to Vladimir Putin.

Russia is known to easily give up his people, but Vladimir Putin doesn’t give up on most of his.

If the repeatedly denied information that Vladimir Putin is Medvedchuk’s kum is true, they share closer ties.

It is known that Medvedchuk regularly met with Putin before the war, looked after Russian interests, and was the owner of a huge propaganda media holding that worked in the Russian interests inside Ukraine.

Even before the war started, it was said that he was removed from the Kremlin’s livelihood, which had the same claims to him as to Vladislav Surkov [wyższego kremlowskiego urzędnika] – embezzlement of Russian propaganda money. But he has merit as well, even if he screwed up so shamefully afterwards. Therefore, it was first necessary to get him out of Ukraine, and then to make claims against him.

Besides, he is a man who knows a lot. Such a person, even if he has already been interrogated twenty times in Ukraine not only by Ukrainian specialists, should be at hand.

There are voices that it is not known how long Medvedchuk will survive in Russia after this exchange.

If he lives like Viktor Yanukovych, he will live long. I would put him at the neighboring dacha, they will have something to talk about. Why not? This man is under the control of the FSB anyway. I think he will live as long as Vladimir Putin lives, health permitting.

There is an opinion that the Kremlin wants to use Medvedchuk as a puppet figure after the referenda and the annexation of part of Ukraine. Does this option seem likely?

Everything is possible. He is a significant figure, a former leader of the former Ukrainian opposition party, Opposition Platform – For Life, former deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. It will be especially useful given the fact that Moscow does not have many high-ranking collaborators at its disposal.

Those who stayed in Russia are reluctant to appear in the occupied territories. Now Vladimir Saldo is making up for all of them [szef chersońskiej administracji okupacyjnej]who was recently either poisoned or arrested for embezzling funds. If Medwedczuk appears there, it will even be beautiful. Another thing is that it is hardly needed now. It seems to me that it will be used when it comes to pseudo-negotiations with Ukraine.

The spokesman for the defense ministry, General Igor Konashenkov, did not mention Medvedchuk when he spoke about the exchange of prisoners. Only Denis Puszylin, the head of the so-called DNR, officially said that Medvedchuk was listed. Why is this information not from the Russian authorities?

Medvedchuk is not a military man and cannot be replaced in this way. Dmitry Peskov had previously said that Moscow had nothing to do with it – because he was a citizen of Ukraine and was not in the Russian army. He argued that it was a Ukrainian matter. Why disprove your own lie unnecessarily, after all they are lying all the time.

Moreover, Puszylin’s statement is the statement of no one, a man who is a representative of the puppet government of a non-existent state. He can say anything and then you can call it “nonsense”, as Putin once described the statements of his spokesman Peskov, and ignore it.

Third, the speeches of the spokesman for the Konashenkov Ministry of Defense are shown on Russian television, and Pushlin does not need to be quoted at all. Why annoy people unnecessarily? They will show it in the news and most Russians will suddenly find out that Vladimir Putin pulled his kum out of Ukraine at the cost of giving away the Azovians.

So the Russians will be upset that the Kremlin has replaced and brought some of its own, and not ordinary military, to Russia?

I think so. Public opinion polls, which of course can only be trusted to a limited extent, showed that the Russians wanted the Azovian trial to take place. It was a social demand, not only Vladimir Putin’s desire.

The propaganda spoke so loudly about the new Nuremberg tribunal, convinced the Russians so much that they were the Nazis, that now there would be no victory for them without a tribunal.

Anyway, there is no victory, there is only an attempt to keep the occupied territories, and the story of the tribunal has also been annulled. It goes without saying that some unarmed civilian Medvedchuk was exchanged for cannibals and Nazis who were to be convicted and probably hanged in the Donetsk or Luhansk People’s Republic. Now the whole pattern is collapsing and people can feel dizzy.

To start speculating on this, you would at least have to come up with a conspiracy theory, or better a few. Throw them all into the public space so that the Russians start discussing it – Russians love conspiracy theories and will come up with something extra themselves! And after that, you can take Medvedchuk out, invite him to the program of Vladimir Soloviev – I’m sure that will happen. And then no one will be interested in what really happened.

We know nothing about the Russian soldiers traded for Azov soldiers. RIA Novosti showed a video of them coming to Russia, but it is not known who these people are. Why is this information confidential?

As with all such information, this news must be personally approved by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s chief PR officer. Perhaps Putin intends to talk to them personally. Maybe we’ll see some video of this meeting. When Russian spies were expelled from the West, Putin played a piano song for them about his homeland, which was filmed.

Maybe they don’t want to show how important militaries were in captivity and are now picking the most photogenic and lowest rank of them to make a remake. “Private Ryan “the story of how the Russians heroically freed 55 prisoners from Nazi captivity.

Maybe they invent a propaganda narrative that these people were imprisoned in Western Europe and deliberately taken to Ukraine for exchange. Why in Western Europe? Because we are at war with NATO, say Russian officials.

You can certainly say that they are preparing some extra lie and have reasons for not wanting to show these people. They most likely do not want the general public to know how important officers can be captured.

Due to the amendment to the Russian Penal Code, prisoners may be imprisoned for between three and 10 years. So it is probably one of the last groups of Russian prisoners who are not threatened with imprisonment in their homeland?

It is very difficult to say, because Russian law is applied selectively, it all depends on the decisions of the authorities. It was not said that these people surrendered voluntarily – and the law provides for a penalty for voluntary captivity.

Of course, it can be a formulation like in the Stalinist era, according to which all those who were captured by the Germans, after World War II, ended up in Soviet camps.

Whether the authorities will do so now remains to be seen much later. For now, it’s just scaring. In general, all the initiatives announced personally by Vladimir Putin in recent days are a smokescreen, a scarecrow, a decoration intended to hide the Kremlin’s military defeat.

No victory, replacement of azovites, mobilization – do you think that maybe all this is supposed to reduce support for the war and for Vladimir Putin personally?

Of course, this inevitably lowers support for Putin. These are all consequences of a military failure. The other thing is that we cannot – as always – assume that a mass event is about to happen protests.

Putin’s ratings are likely to decline gradually, and the majority that supports the war, which never really formed, will collapse. Now these 60 percent. The Russians who sat and kept their mouths shut, pretending that all this did not concern them, will slowly begin to shift to moderate anti-war positions. It will be a long process – I think we will not see the consequences until next year.

Masha Makarova

Masza Makarowa (1987) – Russian, journalist, cooperating, among others with Belsat TV. A graduate of history at the Moscow Shaninkai and a collaborator of the liquidated Memorial association. Apart from journalism, she writes about the history of the Warsaw ghetto and about the history and the present day of Birobidzhan, where she spent some time.


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