KYIV -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has signed a decree that brings into force sanctions against Viktor Medvedchuk, a political heavyweight and tycoon, and other Ukrainian politicians who have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Zelenskiy signed the decree on February 20, a day after Ukraine’s National Security Council announced sanctions against Medvedchuk, his wife, Oksana Marchenko, as well as six other individuals and 19 companies all believed to be tied to the tycoon. Some of the individuals are Russian citizens.
The sanctions freeze the assets of Medvedchuk and his wife for three years and prevent them from doing business in Ukraine. Most of Medvedchuk’s assets are under his wife’s name. Ukraine has also said an oil pipeline that transports Russian oil products to Europe and is reportedly controlled by Medvedchuk will be nationalized.
The measures are the latest in a series of moves by Zelenskiy’s administration to go after Ukrainian individuals who critics say have close ties to the Kremlin.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said it supported Ukraine’s “efforts to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity through sanctions.”
“Medvedchuk has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014 for undermining Ukraine’s security, territorial integrity, and democratic institutions,” it said in a statement.
Earlier on February 20, Medvedchuk called the sanctions "illegitimate" and "illegal."
Ukraine on February 2 sanctioned Taras Kozak and three television stations he formally owns. Ukrainian media say the media assets, which aired pro-Kremlin propaganda, really belong to Medvedchuk.
Medvedchuk, who is a lawmaker and chairman of the pro-Russia Opposition Platform For Life (OPZZh), criticized the moves against him and fellow party member Kozak.
"My fellow faction member Taras Kozak and I, as well as our family members, have been subjected to sanctions illegally and without any evidence," Medvedchuk told Russia's Interfax on February 20. "As a specialist in law, I can say that all these sanctions that the sitting administration has imposed on me, my family, my associates, and journalists are illegitimate and cannot be imposed other than through a court ruling."
He vowed that he would not flee the country following the measures taken against him, which the Kremlin on February 20 called "very alarming."
In a separate move, Zelenskiy’s government recently launched a criminal investigation into meddling in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Ukrainian individuals are accused of seeking to harm the campaign of U.S. President Joe Biden by publishing alleged recordings of his conversations while he served as vice president overseeing the Obama administration’s relationship with Kyiv.
Medvedchuk is the head of the political council of the OPZZh, which is the largest opposition group in the Ukrainian parliament. He is one of the party’s 44 deputies in the 450-seat legislature.
Medvedchuk has a warm personal relationship with Putin, who is the godfather of his daughter. The lawmaker was sanctioned by the United States in 2014 for undermining democracy in Ukraine.
Ukraine said it is investigating Medvedchuk and the other individuals on suspicion of “financing terrorism.” The sanctions are tied to exports of coal to Russia from a separatist-held region in eastern Ukraine.
Russia-backed separatists took control of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions after Ukrainian protesters toppled pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
Profits from the illegal coal trade allegedly funded the three TV channels Medvedchuk reportedly owns. Ukrainian media reported about the illegal coal sales as early as 2016.
Ukraine also said on February 19 that it is seizing PrykarpatZakhidtrans, an oil product pipeline owned by offshore companies reportedly connected to Medvedchuk.
The OPZZh has sharply criticized the sanctions and asset seizure, calling it "the destruction of Ukrainian democracy."
Political analysts say the moves by the Zelenskiy administration could be an attempt to cozy up to the Biden administration following Kyiv’s strained relationship with former President Donald Trump.
“I would see this [action] more as Zelenskiy trying to demonstrate to Washington that he will be a good partner,” John Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and an analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank, said about the timing of the Medvedchuk sanctions.