Putin ally to Ukraine’s probable new leader: Reconcile with Moscow, get territory back

Viktor Medvedchuk
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Ukraine‘s new president could regain control over the separatist-controlled east of his country within months and get cheap gas and major investment from Russia if he repairs ties with Moscow, the Kremlin’s closest ally in Ukraine said.

Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent figure in Ukraine’s Russia-leaning opposition, outlined the prospect in an interview before a presidential election runoff in Ukraine on Sunday which polls show political novice Volodymyr Zelenskiy should easily win. He said the Kremlin was keen to know more about Zelenskiy, a41-year-old Russian-speaking TV comedian who has no political experience, to understand if he is someone it could do a deal with, something it failed to do with incumbent Petro Poroshenko who polls show will be soundly defeated by Zelenskiy. “They don’t have any expectations in Moscow,” he said. “They want to see what happens afterwards, who will be in his(Zelenskiy’s) entourage, and what he will do and with whom.”

A Ukrainian citizen, Medvedchuk does not represent Russia,but his words carry weight due to his close friendship with President Vladimir Putin and track record as a go-between between the two nations.

Medvedchuk said he had known Putin for 19 years, that the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter, and that he had held talks with Putin in Moscow as recently as two weeks ago. The Kremlin has made clear it will be glad to see the back of Poroshenko but has not commented on Zelenskiy, saying only that it is watching candidates’ statements closely and hopes any new president can implement a peace deal on Donbass, eastern Ukraine, which has been under separatist control since 2014.

When asked about Medvedchuk’s advice for Ukraine’s new president on Friday, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, said he greatly respected Medvedchuk, calling him “very active” and”important” when it came to his humanitarian work as an intermediary between Moscow and Kiev.

Peskov, who confirmed Medvedchuk’s recent meeting with Putin, said Ukraine didn’t need to strike a specific deal with Putin or Moscow, but did need take steps to build mutually beneficial relations with Russia. When asked what expectations the Kremlin had of Zelenskiy,Peskov said: “We would always like to hope for the best. Of course we want to hope that the person who is elected Ukraine’s president will not be from the party of war. And we want to hope that this person will take a different perspective on relations between Ukraine and Russia.