The launch of the Viktor Medvedchuk criminal case has raised many questions – both to how the probe was initiated and to those who hadn't started it long ago. But here's another important one. How many Ukrainian prisoners can be exchanged for Medvedchuk?
Actually, the answer is simple: none. After all, it's only Ukrainians held in Russia and in the occupied territories who are interested in such a swap. Others simply won't go for it.
For the Russian president it's not nepotism that's important, but Medvedchuk's ability to influence Ukrainian internal processes to pursue Russian interests
First. Moscow will not be blowing its cover so recklessly. Through Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin has already stated that Medvedchuk and everything connected with him is about Ukrainian internal affairs. And Russia, he went on to claim, has never interfered in Ukraine's affairs at all. Let's leave the second part of the comment to the future "Nuremberg trial" of Russian Nazism, but formally, Russia will not recognize Medvedchuk as its "fifth column" or "Russian political prisoner of the Kyiv regime." Because this would become one more proof of Russia's direct interference in Ukraine's affairs – to enjoy control over the leader of the second-largest parliamentary faction.
Second. Is Medvedchuk a valuable asset for Moscow? Whatever many say about his personal ties with Putin, for the Russian president it's not nepotism that's important, but Medvedchuk's ability to influence Ukrainian internal processes to pursue Russian interests. So if Viktor Medvedchuk loses such opportunities, he's likely to be thrown out of the big game. It's only in propaganda stories where Moscow "doesn't leave its people behind." Here, it's the "we are not there" technique that's being observed. Also, given the horrendous popular rating Medvedchuk has earned, I suggest it would be more convenient for Moscow to have Medvedchuk being "pressed" in Ukraine – as if it testifies to "persecution of political opponents" in Ukraine.
Probably, certain politicians, taking the "drowning Medvedchuk" factor into account, instead of offering him a helping hand to pull him out of the swamp, are looking into ways to become the new Medvedchuks – seeking access to the Kremlin in order to sell their country at a higher price. And there's nothing to be surprised of: as long as there's a pro-Russian electorate in Ukraine, the new Medvedchuks will be emerging.
Ukrainian authorities would hardly go for swapping Medvedchuk. After all, he's the most "demonized" Ukrainian politician these days. So if he is subjected to systematic pressure, those exerting it can expect certain electoral bonuses
In this situation, it could be even better for the OPZZh leader to remain under house arrest and boast of own influence in Kyiv than seal a "retirement" in Russia's Rostov. That's why Medvedchuk never chose to flee from Ukraine. As long as he has influence, he'll be getting Russian money. Once the influence evaporates, he'll probably have to live a quiet life somewhere at a Russian dacha.
And the third thing to note… Ukrainian authorities would hardly go for swapping Medvedchuk. After all, he's the most "demonized" Ukrainian politician these days. So if he is subjected to systematic pressure, those exerting it can expect certain electoral bonuses. Even if he is never actually sentenced to a prison term (which many experts believe will be the case), the very fact of the criminal prosecution creates false impression that "justice has been served." Even if popular support for the authorities doesn't grow, it is unlikely to slide. Let's not forget about the "bread and circuses" concept. Therefore, the authorities will be skimming cream off of the Medvedchuk case as long as it's possible.
And this suggests we're set to sit back and watch a rather long series. Its pilot episode was rather intriguing but its finale will depend on whether its producers will retain interest in shooting it until a logical denouement or come up with a completely new script, of a new and no less exciting series.
Bohdan Petrenko is a Deputy Director of Ukrainian Institute for Extremism Studies