Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused neighbouring Ukraine of becoming “anti-Russia” and warned Moscow would be ready to react to what he said were threats to its own security amid soaring tensions with Kyiv.
Putin’s comments on Friday came a day after a Ukrainian court placed Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent pro-Russian politician and personal friend of the Russian president, under house arrest.
Medvedchuk, who has promoted closer ties with Russia and acted as an intermediary between Moscow and Kyiv in the past, is being investigated over treason allegations he has dismissed as politically motivated. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Speaking at a meeting of Russia’s security council, Putin accused Kyiv of overseeing a “cleansing” of the country’s political space.
He said Ukrainian authorities were targeting individuals who favoured better ties with Russia and supported a peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014, and also highlighted the closing of some pro-Russian media outlets.
“Judging by everything, and this is very sad, Ukraine is slowly but surely turning into some kind of polar opposite of Russia, some kind of anti-Russia, and into a platform from whose territory it seems we will constantly receive news requiring our special attention from a security point of view,” Putin said.
“National media outlets are being shut down – and our Western partners are not reacting at all, if not to say supporting such rulings,” he added.
Putin went on to warn Moscow would not stand idly by amid what he described as a selective crackdown on certain individuals doing business with Russia.
“This is, of course, an issue that should always be on our radar and we should respond to this given the threats being created for us in a timely and appropriate manner,” he said.
‘The number of oligarchs has decreased’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defended the moves against Medvedchuk.
He said on Friday the crackdown on Medvedchuk, which began in February when he and several associates were sanctioned and three television channels owned by an ally were forced off air, was a legal way of choking off what he described as his malign influence.
“For the first time in many years the number of oligarchs has not increased, but decreased. Minus Medvedchuk,” Zelenskyy wrote in a blog.
“With the help of legal tools, Medvedchuk was stripped of the possibility of using media assets and state property to openly attack the country and damage state security,” he added.
Medvedchuk’s case marks the latest flashpoint between Moscow and Kyiv, who have been at loggerheads since 2014, when a revolution toppled former Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow annexed the Black Sea region of Crimea and Russian-backed separatists took control of a chunk of eastern Ukraine.
Tensions have flared again in recent months after the two countries traded blame for an uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine, and Russia, in what it called a defensive exercise, massed troops on its western border with Ukraine and in Crimea.
The head of Ukraine’s state security service this week said Russia still had about 100,000 soldiers deployed near its western border with Ukraine and in Crimea despite Moscow announcing a military pullback last month.