BERLIN: Ukraine wants its citizens taken as prisoners of war by the Russian forces to be released. In return, it is ready to free Vladimir Putin's most high-profile ally in the country - Viktor Medvedchuk.
Ukrainian security services have announced the arrest of Medvedchuk in what they called a "lightning-fast and dangerous" operation. They posted a photo purportedly showing the 67-year-old in handcuffs and wearing Ukrainian military fatigues.
Who is Viktor Medvedchuk? And why would Russia come to his rescue?
Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian oligarch and opposition politician who had been under house arrest in Kyiv on suspicion of treason. He escaped after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
Pro-US Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Tuesday night that Medvedchuk was arrested in a "special operation" by the country's security service SBU.
He later suggested exchanging him for Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russia. "I propose to the Russian Federation to exchange this guy of yours for our boys and our girls who are now in Russian captivity," Zelensky said in a video address.
Ivan Bakanov, the head of SBU, wrote an online post after the capture. "You can hide from justice. You can even wear a Ukrainian military uniform to disguise . But will it help you escape from punishment? Not at all!"
Medvedchuk's Russia connection
Medvedchuk is known to be close to the Kremlin and he became wealthy from Russian oil interests. He leads the pro-Russian Opposition Platform, For Life party. In May 2021, he was charged with treason and has been accused of selling military secrets to Russia and exploiting the natural resources of Crimea under Russian occupation. He was also accused of trying to buy coal from mines in areas of Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists to fund the rebels, which he also denied, reports BBC. However, he has denied wrongdoing.
For years, he was not abandoned by Ukraine's politicians because he was seen as an important channel of communication with Moscow.
Medvedchuk is known to be close to Putin; the Russian president is godfather to his youngest daughter. The two have been regularly seen together - at a Formula One race in Sochi and martial arts meetings. The oligarch also hosted Putin at his villa in Crimea.
The Russian president had said in 2019 that they met from time to time, reports BBC. "I would not say that we are very close but we know each other well," he told filmmaker Oliver Stone.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Medvedchuk during a 2017 visit to the New Jerusalem Orthodox Monastery outside the town of Istra, some 70 km outside Moscow, AFP.
The rich life
Medvedchuk has been living a luxurious life for years. Investigators who went to his house found a replica of a vintage Pullman railway carriage, opulently furnished with gold fittings, standing at a mock-up of a railway station, all hidden under a tarpaulin, according to a Guardian report.
Like all oligarchs, he owns a yacht - his $200m 93-metre craft was seized in the Croatian port of Rijeka last month.
The United States slapped sanctions on Medvedchuk for joining hands with the Russian government ahead of the war. Zelenskyy suspended his party in March. Then Moscow had condemned the move saying it was a mistake by the Ukrainian president that would leave the country divided.
However, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has not commented on the news of Medvedchuk's capture, telling Russian reporters that "there are a lot of fakes coming from Ukraine" and "this needs to be checked first".
Whether Russia comes to his rescue remains to be seen.
With inputs from agencies