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4 March 2021

Zelensky takes on Ukraine’s oligarchs in bid to court Biden

President gambles on battle with ‘old guard’ to shore up image and woo new US administration

Volodymyr Zelensky’s move last month to shut down three television channels that are linked to a multi-millionaire politician close to the Kremlin has raised hopes that the Ukrainian president is preparing for a wider crackdown on the country’s powerful oligarchs.

The pro-Moscow television stations were taken off-air for spreading Russian “disinformation”. The outlets were owned by an associate of Viktor Medvedchuk, an oligarch who boasts of having Russian president Vladimir Putin as a godfather to one of his daughters. Days after the broadcasters were shuttered, Medvechuk’s assets and an oil pipeline owned by another associate were frozen.

The swoop against Medvedchuk — who, according to international observers, controlled the TV channels by proxy through his influence over its owner Taras Kozak — was the most important policy shift since Zelensky won office in 2019, said formers advisers and analysts, and was intended in part to win favour with the Biden administration.

“Zelensky was elected because he was viewed by voters as being a political outsider,” said Maria Zolkina, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation. “Everything he is doing now is an attempt to return to his original image, upon which he can build his re-election campaign. To have a chance, he needs prominent cases to demonstrate he is battling the old guard,” she added.

Read more: Financial Times