Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian politician suspected of treason, is one of those who provoked full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, said in an interview with Radio NV on April 20.
Podolyak spoke about how actively Medvedchuk is testifying to law enforcers and whether it is possible to exchange him for Mariupol; recalled (pro-Russian politician) Yevhen Murayev, who "also ran to Moscow"; and also explained what negotiations with Russia now depend on.
NV: Medvedchuk addressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin with a proposal to exchange him for (the people in) the port city of Mariupol. Whose initiative was it? Immediately after his arrest, the President's Office announced that he could be exchanged.
Podolyak: Firstly, Medvedchuk is an element of the war, i.e. a man who, in particular, provoked Russian aggression against our country.
Secondly, after it was revealed that Medvedchuk had been caught, of course, there was a proposal from the president. We are ready to exchange this person for a certain number of our prisoners of war, because our people are much more important to us.
Thirdly: Medvedchuk himself wants to find a way out of the situation, because he realizes that no one will just exchange him, that he will have big problems because he will have to testify what he has been doing in Ukraine since 2014; why his activities led to such a large-scale intervention by the Russian Federation in our territory. It was his initiative to offer himself in exchange for the residents and defenders of Mariupol.
In my opinion, this was the only formula by which it was possible to hand over this person and get back all our people from Mariupol so that they don’t die there, given how Russia is waging war. There is carpet bombing going on there – both cruise missiles and artillery are endlessly ironing AzovStal Iron and Steel Works into the ground. But, as we see, the reaction from the Russian side was expected: they're ignoring this person, who, as far as I understand, deceived them into parting with big money, and at the same time constantly lied to them.
NV: Is Medvedchuk's testimony perhaps more valuable than swapping him for Ukrainian citizens?
Podolyak: For me, the lives of heroes in Mariupol are much more valuable. We will establish everything else anyway, but life is priceless. Moreover, the people who are defending Mariupol today are symbols of Ukraine, and it is worth anything to get them out.
I think that Medvedchuk is giving testimony very intensively today and we will establish everything. In general, we will establish a lot. How Medvedchuk (who was at the bottom, no one remembered him) became the most powerful media oligarch from 2015 to 2018. I hope that we will be able to get answers as to who helped him become an oligarch in both the media and energy sectors in Ukraine. It is impossible without help (and not only help from Russia).
I think that today he is giving testimony very, very intensively because he wants to live. Because he is a very cowardly person who is afraid of everything. Such people are just "blowing hot air." Today we see a man who really wants to survive, realizing that neither Russia nor, moreover, Ukraine needs him.
NV: Do you mean the fifth president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, when you're talking about those of the Ukrainians who could have helped Medvedchuk become an influential person? Or someone else?
Podolyak: I don't mean anything. I'm saying that today we need to get specific legally recorded testimony from Mr. Medvedchuk, why, how, and thanks to whom he was able to become an oligarch in Ukraine. I want us to establish this. We’ll see what names he names, then we will discuss them with you.
NV: If Russia agreed to swap Medvedchuk for civilians and soldires from Mariupol, would it mean that we leave Mariupol under the control of Russian invaders?
Podolyak: There is no city there anymore, they have destroyed 90-95% of the infrastructure. We can't leave as this, as it is a Ukrainian city. All the cities under occupation today, in particular, in the south of Ukraine, such as Kherson, Henichesk, Nova Kakhovka – they are all our cities, 90% of our people there. Some barbaric Russian armed forces are temporarily located there. We don't think that we gave these cities to them, right? We will take them back. The same with Mariupol.
If we need to take them away in order for people to survive, let's take them away. If they need to be taken out of Mariupol for this, let's take them out. This does not mean that the Russians will keep Mariupol under their control. I do not know at all what this army can keep under control, given that they are perceived extremely negatively (by everyone) even in the east and south of Ukraine.
NV: How do you explain the fact that Russia did not respond to the call to swap Medvedchuk? Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the latter was a Ukrainian citizen. Could this mean that the Kremlin does not need Medvedchuk?
Podolyak: I want us all to start respecting ourselves from the point of view that we are a great country. We should not think that Russia is a great country. And people like Medvedchuk should not be perceived as having any influence on anything, or that he is someone's crony. In fact, he’s just a worker who was in Ukraine on Russian political money. He took something for himself, told some tales that he was influential here: give him more money and he will arrange a coup here, will control the parliament, etc. But these are only fairy tales.
Nobody needed Medvedchuk, neither here nor there. This is how the circumstances of 2015-2018 turned out: due to ties in Ukraine, he proved to Russia that he could influence something here. They saw that his media, political and business activities were growing. As far as I understand, today the Russians want to get rid of all these "promising" subjects, like Medvedchuk, who have misled them very, very much. Russia, using Medvedchuk, thought that 80% of Ukraine's people were pro-Russian. That's what Medvedchuk told them, right? There are also such persons as (Yevhen) Murayev – the same, but even more aggressive, talkative. "It" also ran to Moscow and said that they have 80% pro-Russian control here.
I want us to understand that these are very small people and the Russians do not need them. Maybe they are needed in order to settle some accounts with them. To bill Medvedchuk and say: "Listen, we gave you so much money, but where is this money? Give it back."
Mariupol, for example, is a symbol of Ukraine's resilience for the Russians. Today they are obsessed with some imperial, Nazi symbolism. For them, the symbol of resilience must be destroyed at the root – to wipe Mariupol off from the face of the earth.
NV: Putin told high-ranking EU officials (Austria’s chancellor, the Italian prime minister) that now is "not the time" for talks. Does that mean they are at a dead end? Will the battle for the Donbas decide the course of these negotiations?
Podolyak: The Donbas is the key today, and the Russians have already announced that they are launching the second phase. In general, it is very interesting for me to look at them: they are people who lie, invent, they are already at the second phase. Earlier, they claimed that they would take Ukraine in three days, and in a maximum of five days. But, unfortunately, we will still have very powerful clashes in the east of the country, not only in the Donbas, but also in Kharkiv and in the area around Kharkiv, and after that we will understand which way each of us is going.
As for the negotiation process. We had a very good formulaic decision on how to withdraw from the war and how to get undoubted security guarantees for Ukraine in order not to repeat the situation in which we (remain) face to face with a very aggressive empire called, unfortunately, the Russian Federation. I don't know why they should be called that, and not the Barbarian Federation. However, we had an Istanbul communiqué, which set out a more or less clear formula that certain countries will stand by Ukraine on a permanent basis.
After that, we saw (a horrific) story in Kyiv Oblast, which has significantly changed the negotiating background. After Bucha, it is no longer possible to take the talks dryly. There was Kramatorsk after that, the killing of people at the train station, and then we have Mariupol, which is being physically destroyed today, and there are children there. It is no longer possible to perceive negotiations without emotion, as they should be perceived. The background is very difficult, very vicious.
But working legal subgroups are finalizing an agreement on security guarantees for Ukraine in terms of its compliance with international law. Political consultations are taking place at the level of political advisers of countries – potential guarantors. Everything is going on, but in parallel with the expectation of what will happen on the battlefield.
NV: Foreign media have reported that (Russian oligarch) Roman Abramovich visited Kyiv again. Why did he come, what role does he play now in these negotiations?
Podolyak: Firstly, I have no information why he came, or whether he came at all.
Secondly – he is a member of the Russian delegation, but he acts there as a mediator who has to make sure that the dialogue takes place, given our very negative attitude toward the Russian delegation, which continues to believe that they are engaged in some kind of denazification. That is, his task is to smooth out these bumps.
NV: There is information that the Russian invaders want to mobilize men from Mariupol and Kherson Oblast. How can we prevent this, if it is true?
Podolyak: There is such information, but I would be very careful with it, because there are a lot of fake news. The Russians are engaged in stove piping a lot of informational garbage like that for propaganda purposes, in order to create panic.
In my opinion, it is impossible to organize a mobilization in Kherson or Zaporizhzhya Oblasts, because there is no loyalty to the Russians there. It is obvious that people will take up arms and side with the Ukrainian troops. And I don't see any sense in that, because they still have a lot of Buryats, they can bring them in. They are not considered people there.
Regardless of the number killed, Russia pretends it doesn't matter. People go to parades and shout: "Let's send even more people, let them kill Ukrainians!" They believe that they are killing us, and they do not think that they are dying en masse, in packs.
It seems more realistic to me that they will practically destroy the entire "gene pool" of criminal enclaves called the "DPR" and "LPR." Thus, these criminal enclaves will disappear, because people will no longer be there – they will all be killed in the war.
They will destroy the "gene pool" in the Crimea. And this is very good, because they relocated their Buryats and others to the Crimea.
Russians are not Europeans, they do not know how to appreciate human life. They do not care about it.
NV: Russia is deporting Ukrainians to the territory of Russia or the occupied Donbas. Do we have an understanding of why they are doing this? How can they use these people?
Podolyak: There is information that all citizens of Ukraine who were taken away through filtration camps were sent to some remote corners of Russia. This is very similar to what they did in the 1940s, when they partially relocated peoples who were not loyal to the Soviet Union.
This is such a tradition, a technique – to blur a nation. That is, send them to where they will be treated differently, with hatred, to humiliate these people. Of course, 90% of the people they took to Russia were forced to leave because there were no humanitarian corridors to Ukraine. People fled from their shelling, and later they had no opportunity to return – Russians took their money, mobile phones, undressed them, checked them, looked at tattoos.
We will take everyone away. This is not a question. We will take away all our citizens, all our people will return to Ukraine. There is no Russian Federation – this is a country that will forever be an outcast country. That's it. It will be impossible to live there, make a career, study. A Russian passport will be very bad: it will not allow people to feel at ease in the civilized world. Our citizens are from a completely different value dimension. They do not need Russia, they will not stay there, they just won't survive there! Because our values are the values of freedom, and their values are the values of the prison camp!
NV: Are there already negotiations with the Russian side on the return of Ukrainian citizens they deported?
Podolyak: We are preparing now. This is being done by (Deputy Prime Minister – Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Iryna) Vereshchuk. In general, we are preparing to talk about the prisoner swap, in particular, on the return of our citizens.
There are plans, but we need to prepare everything legally, because they are Russians – it's impossible to speak to them just in a human way, we need to speak to them purely legally.
NV: You wrote about the danger of famine in Europe and worldwide, the food crisis, military security, Europe's dependence on Russian energy. What arguments work best for our Western partners now?
Podolyak: Arguments of mass violence against our women and children are best for our Western partners, no matter how horrible it sounds. They take it very hard emotionally. And this provokes a corresponding public reaction in the West.
They see that we are at war with a barbaric civilization that today, in the 21st century, is raping women en masse and killing children. This has greatly changed public opinion in Europe. This is the first thing.
Secondly. They have an argument that delaying, not imposing a direct or indirect embargo on Russian energy will delay the expansion of the war. They are afraid of the expansion of the war, because they see that the Russians are launching more and more missiles on our cities, without disguising it at all – they are hitting civilian infrastructure, ignoring any rules of war. That is, the conflict is indeed expanding, more and more weapons are being involved. This is very frightening for Europeans. They understand that the Russians can (expand) the conflict even to the territories of our neighboring states. These are the two main reasons that will lead Europe to a tough sanctions policy, and the sixth package has already included energy sanctions and restrictions.
NV: How do you assess Russia's ability to wait out the sanctions?
Podolyak: You ask whether it can exist at the level of the 15th or 16th century. They will have nothing – no comfort, no money, no technology. A small number of people are used to living in comfort (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and all the others can live in dugouts. It seems to me that when there is a rise in unemployment, food prices (it's already taking place), food deficits, very high inflation, the devaluation of the ruble – all this will create internal conflict. They will put pressure on their elite because they can live in a camp, but still want to eat. That is, the refrigerator will win.
Only one question: due to what sanctions, and how long will it take? If there are sanctions on oil and gas, it will be very, very fast – a month, two, three maximum. If there are no such sanctions, it may take 8-12 months. And it’s not just to do with the war – Russia will go to the bottom anyway.