Putin ally stages political comeback in Ukraine

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Ukraine's Opposition Platform-For Life party leader Viktor Medvedchuk is a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin

Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Russia's Vladimir Putin, has made a political comeback after his party came second in the country's weekend parliamentary vote.

His pro-Moscow Opposition Platform-For Life party won 13 percent of the vote, allowing US-sanctioned Medvedchuk to return to Ukraine's parliament after more than a decade.

Kiev and Moscow have been at loggerheads since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and war with pro-Russia separatists erupted in eastern Ukraine.

But Medvedchuk, 64, has advocated restoring ties between the two countries, blaming Ukraine for the conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

- The grey cardinal -

Medvedchuk has often been described as "the grey cardinal" of Ukrainian politics.

He served as an MP between 1997 and 2002 and then headed the presidential administration under President Leonid Kuchma until 2005.

After Ukraine's pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004, Medvedchuk disappeared from public politics for almost a decade.

He nevertheless continued to lead a prosperous life as a businessman.

Little is known about his wealth and Medvedchuk refused to answer questions from AFP on the subject, saying that he only talks about his finances with his family.

"I consider myself a wealthy person," he said.

- Negotiator in peace talks-

Since 2014, Medvedchuk has represented Kiev in talks with separatists and is a frequent visitor to Moscow.

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed Putin demanded that Medvedchuk was made a negotiator.

Medvedchuk has never recognised the Kremlin as a party in the conflict, saying only that Moscow wields influence in the east of Ukraine.

"We need to negotiate with Russia on the issue of peace," he told AFP. "There is no other way."

The US Treasury in 2014 placed Medvedchuk under sanctions for his role in support of pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych during Kiev's Maidan revolution.

But in an interview with AFP, he said he does not recognise Moscow's annexation of Crimea and believes the peninsula belongs to Ukraine.

- The Godfather -

Medvedchuk has repeatedly told journalists that Putin is godfather to his youngest daughter Darya.

"I am very pleased, we are proud," he said in an interview to the Russian state television this month.

He said this was the wish of his wife, well-known TV presenter Oksana Marchenko, and that she had asked him to persuade Putin to accept.

Medvedchuk said Putin agreed to the role in 2004.

A Russian TV interview showed footage of Medvedchuk hosting Putin in his Crimean luxury villa in 2012.

In the video, the pair are seen drinking champagne on a balcony overlooking a fountain.

"We have a great relationship. It has been built over many years," he said in an interview with AFP.

- Recent talks with Putin -

Medvedchuk met Putin in Saint Petersburg last week to discuss the future of ties between Kiev and Moscow.

In February this year Kiev prosecutors launched a treason probe into Medvedchuk over his calls to grant autonomy to separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

He was accused of "high treason" for "seeking to undermine the territorial integrity" of Ukraine. But there has been no news on the progress of the investigation since.

Despite Ukraine's refusal, Medvedchuk still insists on direct negotiations with insurgents.

- Media control -

A close ally and party colleague of Medvedchuk, Taras Kozak, owns three Ukrainian TV channels.

His takeover of the Zik channel in June led to journalists resigning over fears his ownership would lead to coverage being influenced by Moscow.

His NewsOne channel was later forced to cancel a TV link-up with a Russian state channel due to protests in Ukraine.

The building of Kozak's 112 Ukraine channel was attacked by a grenade launcher this month after it planned to air a controversial documentary featuring Putin.

Medvedchuk is a frequent guest on Russian television, but rarely gives interviews to Ukrainian media.

"His goal is to become a player with whom everyone will negotiate," said political analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk.

Another analyst, Volodymyr Fesenko, said that such active support from the Kremlin would make Ukrainian society view Medvedchuk negatively.

The pro-Russia lawmakers "will feel extremely uncomfortable in the Ukrainian parliament," Fesenko said.

Ukraine's Opposition Platform-For Life party leader Viktor Medvedchuk is a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin

Medvedchuk is a controversial figure for some. Earlier this month, a Ukrainian far-right party protested his role in peace talks with Russia, because of his close Moscow ties

Provisional results of legislative elections showed Medvedchuk's alliance coming second