Ukraine recently imposed severe sanctions on Putin’s local proxies, while shutting down TV stations that promote and serve the Kremlin. Some analysts believe that the massive move to remove Russian influence may invite retaliation from Moscow, and Putin will not forgive Ukraine, and the confrontation between the two sides may further escalate.
Sanctions are bold and direct in Putin’s face
Ukraine has recently taken a series of measures to remove Russian influence on the ground. Ukraine’s Defense and National Security Council announced on Feb. 19 sanctions against opposition party leader Medvedchuk and his wife, as well as several other Ukrainian and Russian citizens and more than 10 companies. Medvedchuk’s shares in Ukraine’s main media outlet “1+1” TV were also frozen. Ukrainian authorities have accused Medvedchuk and others of financing terrorism, also known as Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
Medvedchuk is a close confidant of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Putin is also the baptized godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter. Many Ukrainian current affairs analysts simply refer to Medvedchuk as Putin’s right hand, or unofficial representative, in Ukraine. Many commentators believe that sanctioning Medvedchuk as Putin’s proxy is also tantamount to directly sanctioning and slapping Putin in the face. The sanctions even restrict Medvedchuk’s use of his five private jets, and Putin and Medvedchuk will not take kindly to such humiliation.
Medvedchuk served as chief of staff to the Ukrainian president under former President Leonid Kuchma. In recent years, he has been a frequent traveler between Moscow and Kiev, often acting as a bridge between the two sides. He was also in Ukraine not long ago to campaign hard for a new Russian coronavirus vaccine, which was rejected by Ukrainian officials. Medvedchuk has also in the past been involved in negotiations to free Ukrainian hostages from pro-Russian militants in the east.
Medvedchuk has many businesses and assets in both Ukraine and Russia, as well as a great deal of influence in Ukrainian politics. Medvedchuk currently serves as the leader of a pro-Russian opposition political party. The party has a small number of seats in the Ukrainian parliament and its supporters are mainly from the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, which have a high concentration of Russian-speaking residents. Some Ukrainian political scientists say that between 15 and 20 percent of Ukrainian voters still support the pro-Russian forces represented by Medvedchuk.
The United States placed Medvedchuk on a sanctions blacklist back in 2014. Many critics of Putin’s regime believe that Medvedchuk, who is Putin’s eyes and ears, is a malignant tumor attached to the Ukrainian muscle, and that Ukraine and Russia are now effectively at war, and that his activities pose a danger to Ukraine’s national security.
Purging the influence of the fifth column
Ukraine’s Defense and National Security Council also announced on Feb. 2 sanctions against three major local television stations and the Ukrainian plutocrat Kozakar, owner of the station. Kozakar is also a member of the Ukrainian parliament for the opposition party led by Medvedchuk. Ukrainian President Zelensky said the three TV stations, which are funded by Russia, are engaging in information warfare against Ukraine. All three TV stations are currently off the air, but programs and news from all three can still be seen on the Internet.
Local commentator Bortnikov said the three TV stations have long been propaganda for the Kremlin and are seen by many as Putin’s fifth column in Ukraine, which many patriots in Ukraine have long tolerated. After Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine two years ago with a high number of votes, he and his party’s approval ratings are now declining and are currently at a very low level.
A month ago, Ukraine began implementing a new law to promote and support the Ukrainian language. These laws require the use of Ukrainian in communication in the service industry, such as checkout and shopping in restaurants and stores. This law also applies to e-shopping and e-commerce.
The Ukrainian Parliament has also recently registered a number of other draft laws. Once these draft laws are passed, the activities of political parties, social organizations, media and even churches that run counter to the official Ukrainian position on Russia’s aggression against Crimea and eastern Ukraine will be restricted.
Stinging Putin, Russia will retaliate
Russian officials, as well as those three sanctioned TV stations, have criticized Ukrainian authorities for violating media and press freedom. Medvedchuk and his supporters argue that the sanctions are illegal and have even crossed a red line. They accuse the Zelensky government of promoting authoritarianism and engaging in political persecution and the end of democracy in Ukraine.
Some pro-Kremlin Russian political scientists have publicly called for the eradication of the anti-Russian Ukrainian system and the Zelensky regime, and for Russia to hold large-scale military exercises along the border with Ukraine.
Many commentators believe that possible retaliatory action by the Kremlin would involve using pro-Russian forces in Ukraine to provoke conflict, and possibly war against Ukraine, including the occupation of Ukraine’s Azov coastline and southern Ukraine, a move that could also help Putin’s administration address the growing water shortage in the Crimean Peninsula.
In recent years, Russia has issued Russian passports in large numbers to residents of two regions in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces. Other options for the Kremlin to retaliate include recognizing the independence of the two regions or simply annexing them directly into Russia proper.
The Ukrainian military has announced that it will hold airborne exercises in March in the region bordering the Crimean peninsula. Ukrainian army leader Homchak also said that the Ukrainian army is intensifying training in urban and alley warfare.
Western interests at stake, attracting international attention
Many Ukrainian political scholars believe that if Putin’s authorities succeed in annexing Ukrainian territory again, the next target could be the three Baltic states, which have joined NATO, and would then face the risk of a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. It is extremely important for the international community to support Ukraine now to stop Putin’s adventures.
Pashkov, a Ukrainian political scientist, said that Ukraine would feel more confident and significantly more secure in the face of the Russian threat if it had the support of the international community, especially the West.
Pashkov: “Ukraine is now receiving help in many areas such as finance and economy. The West is now more united in its position on Ukraine, which is very important for Ukraine. In short, the Ukrainian issue cannot be separated from the attention of the international community.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine announced on February 26 that an international summit on the Crimean platform will be held on August 23 this year, when the Crimean charter will be adopted. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba said that French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders have been invited to attend.
Ukrainian President Zelensky said the same day that the Crimean platform mechanism can unite the international community. He said it is the common responsibility of the international community to lift the Russian occupation of Crimea. Zelensky last year set the annual February 26 as the day of resistance to the occupation of Crimea.