On the evening of Tuesday, February 2, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree imposing sanctions against people’s deputy from the Opposition Platform—For Life faction Taras Kozak.
Eight companies that own the TV channels ZIK, NewsOne, and 112 Ukraine came under sanctions. This means that the channels must stop broadcasting from February 3, 2021.
Recall: people’s deputy from the party Opposition Bloc Taras Kozak became the owner of the 112 Ukraine TV channel in 2018, the next year he bought the TV channel ZIK and created the media holding Novosti with the participation of the 112 Ukraine and NewsOne channels.
Taras Kozak is a member of the inner circle of the politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who was credited with controlling these TV channels.
Fakes and Kremlin soldiers
The Press Secretary of the President of Ukraine Iuliia Mendel explained the position of Volodymyr Zelensky and stressed that blocking TV channels of the so-called Viktor Medvedchuk’s pool that are fictitiously registered in the name of his colleague Taras Kozak, has nothing to do with an attack on freedom of speech.
She urged the media to abide by the law, not to cooperate with the aggressor state, and avoid funding and imposing the Kremlin's editorial policy.
The head of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov also spoke out and called the NSDC's decision to impose sanctions against 112, NewsOne, and ZIK TV channels a consistent step of the Ukrainian authorities in the fight against Russian hybrid aggression. According to the Head of the department, the recommendation to impose sanctions belongs to the Verkhovna Rada and the SBU.
"Taking into account the data at the disposal of the Security Service, as well as numerous violations of the legislation in the field of television and radio broadcasting, recorded by the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, the SBU provided reasonable recommendations to the NSDC to make an appropriate decision."
Министр культуры и информационной политики Александр Ткаченко также объяснил, что решение СНБО — это симметричный ответ на ежедневные информационные и пропагандистские атаки на нашу свободу и независимость.
Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko also explained that the NSDC decision is a symmetrical response to the daily information and propaganda attacks on our freedom and independence.
According to him, this is the logical conclusion of the temporary investigative commission inquiry, when it became known about how the transactions took place when changing owners of the 112, ZIK, and NewsOne TV channels, "that today belong to one person—Medvedchuk's right hand, deputy Taras Kozak":
"This case is exceptional (!), but timely. And not only because of information terrorism and the threat to the security of Ukraine posed by these instruments of the Kremlin's propaganda. But also because of massive violations of journalistic standards, fakes and manipulations."
Tkachenko also expressed confidence that Moscow is already preparing guides on "attacking freedom of speech in Ukraine" and "destroying free press" and called the blocked TV channels a foreign propaganda machine indirectly funded by Moscow.
"Freedom of speech has long been out of the question, and individual journalists have become Kremlin soldiers," he stressed.
Appealing to the West for Opposition Platform—For Life will be difficult
Legally, the NSDC decision and the presidential decree imposing sanctions against Taras Kozak and the legal entities controlled by him should be assessed knowing the evidence base provided by the Security Service of Ukraine to the NSDC.
If the documents contain evidence of assistance to terrorist activities that threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, then there are grounds for imposing sanctions in accordance with Part 2 of Art. 1 of the Law "On Sanctions": "Sanctions can be applied by Ukraine ... also to entities that carry out terrorist activities."
It is the decision of the NSDC that cannot be appealed in court in a procedural way, since it is an intermediate one, and the sanctions are finally put into effect on the basis of a presidential decree. In turn, the presidential decree can be appealed to the Supreme Court as a court of first instance. However, such an appeal can take years.
We also agree with our colleagues in the opinion that in the coming days applications from Taras Kozak and his legal entities may be submitted to the European Court of Human Rights under Art. 39 of the ECHR Rules on the suspension of measures to block the activities of TV channels under his control.
Kozak is likely to refer to the lack of convictions against him and the "public importance" of TV channels and broadcast volumes. But if Ukraine provides a sufficient amount of evidence to confirm the influence of the Russian Federation and the reality of the threat, there is every chance that the presidential decree will remain in force.
Will the imposed sanctions directly affect Viktor Medvedchuk and his business? It all depends on how the financial and economic relations between the legal entities controlled by him were legally formalized. But sanctions are not ends in themselves and should only be a tool for criminal proceedings and, if there is evidence of guilt, end in court sentences.
I assess this legally ambiguous decision as positive. I have repeatedly asked, through what income does the people's deputy, who was previously a public official, finance these TV channels? I am not even talking about the pro-Russian position of these channels and their propaganda activities, that were often perceived as anti-Ukrainian.
Questions, demands and dissatisfaction about the Medvedchuk channels have been around for a long time. When the decision appeared that Kozak became the formal owner of these channels at the end of August 2018, I witnessed how our journalists asked Poroshenko why this happened and why no measures were taken? After all, it was clear for whose benefit these channels work. But Poroshenko threw up his hands and said that he could do nothing.
I am sure that this presidential decree will be challenged in the courts. The party Opposition Platform—For Life cannot oppose this politically and administratively. And they will be able to challenge this decision in the courts, because they have their own people there. This decree is ambiguous, we did not have such precedents, and there is something to get a toehold. This confrontation is going to last a long time. There may be elements of a stalemate, as with the Constitutional Court.
In my opinion, Zelensky needs to prepare for a serious legal struggle and for the fact that there will be attempts to undermine his faction. Here he can rely on the support of his former opponents, first of all, from the patriotic camp. Now, many Poroshenko supporters welcome this decision.
They may still try to appeal to the West. But it's one thing when it is done by pro-Western political forces who have many friends and allies there. And t is another thing when pro-Russian forces appeal to the West. Nevertheless, it should be noted that legally this is a risky and controversial decision, but politically it is a strong move.
There is a nuance about Medvedchuk's business. According to intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Kozak is involved in illegal coal trading schemes with separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And this is interpreted as assistance and financing of terrorism. If the same information appears about Medvedchuk, then there will be sanctions against him. It is a matter of having strong evidence.
Meanwhile, the co-chairman of the parliamentary faction Opposition Platform—For Life Vadim Rabinovich from the rostrum of parliament announced the initiation of impeachment:
"The existence of a democratic independent Ukraine is under threat. We will be holding an extraordinary party congress shortly. We are initiating the procedure of President Zelensky impeachment, who mocked the voters and the country."
A brief dossier on Viktor Medvedchuk's business
According to the rating of the richest Ukrainians, published by the magazine Focus, in 2019 the capital of Viktor Medvedchuk was estimated at $1.2 billion.
Formally, the deputy is not the owner of businesses. At the same time, he openly admitted that he was involved in the management of companies registered to his spouse.
"My wife is not involved in business—she owns the business, and I manage it. Why can't I own business? Because my "beloved" Americans imposed sanctions on me in March 2014. This is related to the peculiarities of the business that belongs to the family today," Medvedchuk said on the air of the TV channel NewsOne.
Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife Oksana Marchenko own 97 companies: 44 in Cyprus, 15 Ukrainian, 12 Russian, 11 in the British Virgin Islands, 5 Bulgarian and 2 British. Most of the companies are offshore. This directly follows from his parliamentary declaration.
Firms of Medvedchuk's wife, registered abroad, own shares in Ukrainian companies. Ihor Kolomoisky is a co-owner of a number of these companies. There are several areas in which Kolomoisky and Medvedchuk have common business:
- Energy: Lvivoblenergo, Prykarpattyaoblenergo, Zaporizhzhiaoblenergo.
- Metallurgy: Dniprospetsstal and Zaporozhzhia Ferroalloy Plant.
- Logistics complex in Odessa, that specializes in the transshipment of oil and liquefied gas. It is represented by four companies: Sintez Oil, Eximnefteprodukt, Odesnefteprodukt and Ukrloadsystem, that operate berths in the port of Odessa, unloading and loading ships, have transportation facilities and storage tanks for oil, oil products, and liquefied gas.
- Media business: TV channels 1+1, 2+2, TET.
Investigative journalism has repeatedly covered Medvedchuk's business in the diesel fuel market. These are wholesale deliveries of fuel from Russia, and its resale to other intermediaries, and the Glusco gas station network.
In addition, Oksana Marchenko owns the Russian company NZNP Trade, that produces oil at the Gavrikovskoye oil field in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, as well as the Novoshakhtinsky refinery in the Rostov region, that refines this oil.
The plant is the largest enterprise in the Rostov region. The plant's capacity is estimated at 5 million tons of oil per year. The refinery was ranked 78th in the Forbes magazine rating "200 largest private companies in Russia-2020". The company's revenue for 2019 is estimated at 142.7 billion rubles (about $1.87 billion).
Oil products produced at the refinery are delivered to the port of Houston for the American corporation Exxonmobil, as well as to the occupied Crimea.