Mon. May 23rd, 2022

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has returned to Ukraine to stand trial on charges of treason, which he says are politically motivated.

At Kiev airport, where he arrived by plane from Warsaw on Monday morning, Mr Poroshenko was greeted by thousands of cheering supporters. Some carried banners with the text “We need democracy” and “Stop the repression”.

From the airport, Mr Poroshenko is expected to go directly to court, which will decide whether he should be remanded in custody pending an investigation and trial.

A prosecutor has claimed that Mr Poroshenko, owner of the Roshen Confectionery Empire and one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, was involved in the sale of large quantities of coal that helped fund Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15. .

Sir. Poroshenko’s assets have been frozen as part of authorities’ investigation into allegations of high treason. The former leader risks up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Man standing at the airport surrounded by soldiers
Petro Poroshenko moves through the passport control point at Zhulyany Airport in Kiev.(Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

Sir. Poroshenko insists he is innocent. He accuses his successor, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, of trying to discredit him politically to distract from Ukraine’s widespread problems, including economic problems and rising deaths due to COVID-19.

The charges are the latest in a series of charges against Mr Poroshenko since his election defeat to Mr Zelenskiy in 2019.

The accusations have raised concerns about undemocratic settlement in Ukraine and have also alerted Ukraine’s allies.

They are coming while Russia has built up troops along the border with Ukraine, and the United States has expressed concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be planning an invasion of Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a mirror and adjusts his tie.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy defeated Mr Poroshenko in a 2019 election.(Reuters: Ludovic Marin)

Sir. Poroshenko was defeated by voters after a corruption scandal and a mixed record of reforms, but he came forward with strong patriotic credentials for his work rebuilding the Ukrainian army while fighting Russian-backed rebel fighters in the east.

Sir. Poroshenko has been out of Ukraine for weeks, meeting with leaders in Brussels, Berlin and other European capitals.

His supporters see the accusations against him as politically motivated. “It is a revenge from the authorities and an attempt by Zelenskiy to eliminate his biggest rival in Ukraine’s politics,” Anton Ivashchenko, 42, told the Associated Press at the airport.

German Foreign Minister visits

Sir. Poroshenko’s return to Kiev from Warsaw on Monday coincides with a whistlestop visit by the new German foreign minister, who will then go to Moscow for negotiations on Tuesday.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist fighters in a war in eastern Ukraine that broke out the same year.

Sir. Zelenskiy revealed Poroshenko at a landslide election in 2019 on a ticket to tackle corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs in the former Soviet republic.

Zelenskiy says he is waging a struggle against oligarchs aimed at reducing their influence in Ukraine’s political and economic life.

On Friday, Mr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, rejected proposals that Mr Zelenskiy behave like Russian-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political rival Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed in December 2010.

Prosecutors in December asked a Ukrainian court to arrest Mr Poroshenko with the possibility of bail set at 1 billion hryvnia ($ 49 million).

AP / Reuters

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