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Turns out Putin’s man in Ukraine co-owns country’s most popular TV channel

Іншим великим співвласником «1+1» є олігарх Ігор Коломойський, як зазначено на сайті телеканалу
Ihor Kolomoiskyi (L) and Viktor Medvedchuk (R) in the foreground of the 1+1 TV channels logo. Collage: Skhemy
Turns out Putin’s man in Ukraine co-owns country’s most popular TV channel
Article by: Yuri Zoria and Alya Shandra
MP Viktor Medvedchuk, Putin’s top-tier ally in Ukraine, declared ownership of a company that has a 24.66% share in the TV channel 1+1 owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi. 1+1 is the most popular TV channel in Ukraine and it was behind the popularity of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a TV celebrity and later as a presidential candidate.

Viktor Medvedchuk is an openly pro-Russian politician who heads the political council of the party “Opposition Platform – For Life” that is the largest successor of fugitive President Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. He also maintains friendly personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he regularly visits in Russia and who even is a godfather of Medvedchuk’s child.

Now, journalists of the investigation TV program Schemes: Corruption in Detail (Skhemy) have analyzed the 2019 asset and income declaration submitted by Viktor Medvedchuk and discovered that the legislator owns almost one-fourth of the JSC TV and Radio Company “1+1 Studio.”

According to the declaration, Medvedchuk’s wife Oksana Marchenko is the ultimate beneficiary of the British Virgin Islands-based company Bolvik Ventures Ltd.

In turn, via an ownership chain of other companies, Marchenko’s company owns 24.66% of the 1+1 Studio, according to its ownership structure published on the official website of the TV channel. The same document mentions that only businessman Igor Surkis owns Bolvik Ventures but not Medvedchuk himself. The page also mentions oligarch Igor Kolomoiskyi as another big-share owner of the channel.

Likewise, according to the journalist investigation, the same offshore company declared as owned by the Medvedchuk family is included in the ownership structure of 2+2, another popular TV channel owned by the 1+1 media group. Via a chain of companies, it owns a 24.51% share of 2+2, according to a document on the channel’s website. And again, there is no information on Medvedchuk’s involvement in the document, and only Surkis is designated as the owner of the Bolvik Ventures Ltd.

Ihor Kolomoiskyi, the largest co-owner of the 1+1 media group, told Skhemy in a phone comment that the information about Medvedchuk’s family co-owning his TV channels is “news” to him. He said that he knew Surkis to own a share earlier, and made an assumption that Surkis might have sold his assets to the Medvedchuks.

“By the way, I have now separated Medvedchuk from the Surkis [brothers]. I always considered them to go together. Which assets and what proportions – it is a different matter,” noted Kolomoiskyi.

At the moment of the publication of the original material, the Skhemy journalists tried to contact Viktor Medvedchuk, his wife, and his press secretary, Ihor Surkis and his brother Hryhoriy, however, they didn’t receive any comments from all of these people on the issue.

According to RFE/RL, in 2019, before he was elected a people’s deputy, Viktor Medvedchuk admitted that his wife, TV host Oksana Marchenko, is only the figurehead owner of businesses which he manages:

“My wife doesn’t do business, she owns businesses, but I manage them. Why can’t I own a business? Because my ‘darling’ Americans sanctioned me in March 2014. This explains the peculiarities of the businesses owned by my family now,” Medvedchuk spilled the beans in a TV show on one of his TV channels, NewsOne.

Viktor Medvedchuk and his cronies already have control over three popular TV channels in Ukraine – 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK.

Media ownership for oligarchs is a gateway for political influence in Ukraine

This graph of oligarchic influence over Ukrainian media was made before it was revealed that Medvedchuk has ownership over 1+1. However, it reveals the scale of oligarchic influence over the media landscape. Image: Hanna NaroninaThe news about Medvedchuk having a share in Ukraine’s most popular TV channel is extremely important. Although the share of Ukrainians getting their news from TV has fallen 11 percentage points to 66% in 2019, according to Internews’ latest media consumption survey, the influence is still significant (and links to the websites of the TV stations also constitute a large share of the social media consumption share). Thus, the influence of oligarchs on public opinion is tremendous.

Hitherto, Medvedchuk was associated with several news channels – 112, News One, and ZIK. It is from these media outposts that he launched an unprecedented attack against philanthropist George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation has been instrumental in nurturing a class of Western-minded Ukrainian intellectuals, the ones who after the Euromaidan revolution of 2014 were most active in the great construction project of a reformed Ukraine free from Russian domination.

It is these reformers of all walks of life and generally, figures advocating for the modernization of Ukraine were smeared as “Sorosites” – mythical puppets in the nefarious presumed plans of George Soros to control Ukraine. The outcome of this attack was the overall stigmatization of the reformist agenda in Ukraine.

The campaign against “Sorosites” should be seen as part of the attempts of Ukraine’s ancien regime, loyalists of ex-President Yanukovych who escaped to Russia after the Euromaidan Revolution, to reclaim their ground. One of the most notable ones is Andriy Portnov, former deputy head of Yanukovych’s administration, who, apart from spewing pro-Russian propaganda from the rostrum of Medvedchuk’s TV channel, has set off a legal flurry in an attempt to imprison pro-Western former President Poroshenko, who was elected after the Euromaidan revolution.

The general narrative perpetuated by the pro-Russian flank is that the Euromaidan revolution was a mistake, as was Ukraine’s dream of Euroatlantic integration; the West is not such a good place anyway and thus, the only way for Ukraine to go is to return to the embrace of Mother Russia.

Russian fake of “US secret laboratories” spread on 1+1

A presenter on 1+1 talks about supposed American biolaboratories in Ukraine amid the coronavirus pandemic on 27 April. Photo: screenshot from video

The revelation of Medvedchuk’s ownership over 1+1 may explain why the channel was implicated in propagating a long-lived fake about US biolaboratories in Ukraine, which purportedly can be implicated not only in developing bioweapons but in the outbreaks of suspicious diseases.

An episode of “Secret Materials” on 27 April told viewers of 1+1 that European journalists had discovered over 4000 laboratories in which new viruses are created by Americans. Political commentator Mykhailo Chaplyha, a frequent guest of Medvedchuk’s TV channels, told in the episode that the Americans not only use Ukrainians for experiments but spread viruses in Ukraine. The authors of the material claimed that Ukraine doesn’t control these “military laboratories” but only US researchers have access to them.

This particular fake was injected into Ukraine’s media system by Medvedchuk’s “Opposition Platform – For Life,” which on 15 April claimed that Ukraine hosts 15 US military laboratories, and circulated by Medvedchuk’s ZIK and 112, Portnov, as well as other pro-Russian media in Ukraine.

But it is a true and tried trope of Russian propaganda which saddles the main mechanism by which conspiracy theories are spread – namely, a subconscious fear of the anxious and disenfranchised that external forces are at work to conduct an act of genocide against them.

According to the EU’s anti-disinformation watchdog EUvsDisinfo, the fake of the “secret US bioweapons laboratories” have targeted all EU Eastern Partnership countries – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The idea is that the US was afraid of leakages of infectious substances on its own territory, and therefore build secret military biological labs in its “colonized countries,” with the insinuation being made that COVID-19 could have been manufactured in one of the labs in Ukraine

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