Fri, 23 Apr 2021

KYIV -- Ukraine has announced a fresh set of sanctions against 10 individuals close to ousted pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, the latest in a series of moves by incumbent President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's administration against actors with ties to Russia.

Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council on February 26 announced sanctions against former Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, former Security Service Chief Oleksandr Yakymenko, and eight other individuals.

Zakharchenko was accused of unleashing deadly force against anti-government protesters in Kyiv in 2014. He later fled to Russia along with Yanukovych.

Zelenskiy's administration has now announced three sets of sanctions this month alone against individuals, including lawmakers, with close ties to Russia.

The moves come after a sharp drop in Zelenskiy's popularity and as he seeks to build strong relations with the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

The Security and Defense Council on February 19 announced sanctions against tycoon and political heavyweight Viktor Medvedchuk, his wife Oksana Marchenko, as well as several individuals and companies connected to him.

Medvedchuk is the chairman of the political council for the second-largest party in the Ukrainian parliament after Zelenskiy's Servant of the People.

Medvedchuk's Opposition Platform-For Life party has its base in Ukraine's eastern provinces and advocates a pro-Russia policy. He has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Crackdown On TV Stations

Earlier in the month, Zelenskiy's administration sanctioned Taras Kozak, a close associate of Medvedchuk, and three television stations that he owns.

Zelenskiy's administration justified the sanctions, claiming the stations receive money from mining activities in regions of Ukraine not controlled by the central government.

Russia is backing separatists in parts of two regions in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv is seeking to re-exert control over. The war, now heading into its eighth year, has killed more than 13,000 people.

Ukrainian media claim the stations are actually owned by Medvedchuk, who uses them to promote his pro-Russia agenda and slam Zelenskiy's leadership.

A former comic with no political experience, Zelenskiy won a landslide victory in April 2019, garnering about 73 percent of the vote on promises to fight corruption and take on the tycoons who control Ukrainian politics from behind the scenes.

However, Zelenskiy has failed to make significant progress to date, leading to a sharp decline in his ratings to around 25 percent. Servant of the People stands at just 22 percent versus 17 percent for Medvedchuk's Opposition Platform-For Life.

Mykhailo Minakov, the Kennan Institute's senior adviser on Ukraine, told RFE/RL on February 24 the moves to impose sanctions on Medvedchuk and others was driven by Zelenskiy's desire to boost his ratings and that it appeared to be working.

Zelenskiy's bold moves against prominent individuals have come as a surprise to many in Ukraine. Oleksandr Danylyuk, Ukraine's former national-security chief, on January 27 said Zelenskiy's government looked weak.

Danylyuk also said that Zelenskiy would have to get rid of people from the government that were involved in U.S. election interference if he wanted to build strong ties with the Biden administration.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv has welcomed the sanctions against the television stations and Medvedchuk, whom Washington sanctioned in 2014 for undermining democracy in Ukraine.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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