The picture is unequivocal.

"Corruption in Ukraine is the only advance of the Zelensky regime", "Russia is the only chance of salvation for Ukraine", "They wanted NATO and are preparing to die for the interests of West".

Every day, new hard-hitting sentences feed “L’Autre Ukraine”, a Russian-speaking portal launched in the summer of 2023.

Officially led by Viktor Medvedchuk, a central figure in pro-Kremlin networks in post-Soviet Ukraine, but orchestrated behind the scenes by the Social Design Agency of Ilya Gambashidze, a political technologist involved in recent Russian disinformation campaigns targeting international opinion.

This digital platform claims to “bring together the forces capable of reversing the situation and getting the Ukrainian people out of the impasse in which they find themselves”.

In the register of manipulation, Viktor Medvedtchouk is not his first attempt.

For 20 years, the oligarch acted as a relay for Moscow's interests in Ukraine, in the political world and in the media.

And his proximity to Vladimir Putin has ensured him almost general detestation in his country.

The two men, from the same generation, have known each other since the early 2000s. Putin had just come to power in Russia;

Medvedchuk headed the cabinet of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.

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Their relationship takes on a personal dimension when the businessman becomes Putin's "koum", a link that he likes to emphasize to give the measure of its importance.

In other words, Medvedchuk's daughter has Vladimir Putin as her godfather – moreover, her godmother is none other than Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

This symbolic affiliation supposes a relationship of mutual loyalty which undoubtedly explains the intervention of the Kremlin to free Viktor Medvedchuk in 2022. Accused of high treason, the oligarch on the run was arrested by the Ukrainian services after having violated his summons at residence.

The capture of the "traitor" caused a sensation: dressed in camouflage, shaggy and weakened, the businessman had become the laughing stock of the country.

His wish to exfiltrate was finally granted: in September 2022, he was included in a prisoner exchange.

kyiv recovers 215 soldiers, including 108 from the Azov regiment, while Moscow recovers 55 people.

The transaction is unbalanced but “svoïkh nie brossaïem”, they say in Russia – we don’t let go of our own.

The “koum” is back in service

In Russia, he also finds another Viktor in disgrace – the former Ukrainian president Yanukovych, convicted in absentia for high treason.

The latter, cornered by the Maidan revolution (2013-2014), did not seek to return to the political game.

The two men have not initiated a rapprochement.

Stripped of his Ukrainian nationality, Viktor Medvedtchouk, 69, is aware that his time has passed and that he no longer has a future in his country.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, launched two years ago, successfully marginalized political forces loyal to Moscow.

The Opposition Platform – For Life, a party that Medvedchuk co-founded, was banned;

the three television channels he unofficially controlled were also suspended.

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Putin would have been outraged.

“He took it as a personal affront,” maintains one of his long-time relatives on condition of anonymity, quoted in an investigation by the Russian media Verstka.

“The existence of Medvedchuk and its canals acted as a bridge and provided hope for resolving the problem by political methods.”

The Kremlin thus lost its networks of influence in a country which was moving away from its orbit.

According to Verstka, Viktor Medvedchuk would nevertheless have brought grist to the ideological mill of the Russian leader: by assuring the latter of the persistent pro-Russian moods in Ukraine and of the popular support which he continued to enjoy personally.

Oligarch Viktor Medvetchouk, then head of a pro-Russian opposition political party, during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, July 18, 2019. © Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / AFP

The error of assessment will not be fatal to him.

Because when the Russian presidential administration tries to regain control, it is again Viktor Medvedchuk who is entrusted with the “Ukrainian question”, with the aim of imposing an alternative narrative.

If the man is despised in Ukraine, the regard towards him is not much higher in Russia.

But "Medvedchuk's allegiance and loyalty are decisive in explaining why Putin has always counted on him," said Ukrainian journalist Maksym Savtchouk, author of a book devoted to the oligarch's connections.

In January 2023, the man who was once a deputy broke his silence by signing, in the newspaper Izvestia, a column in which he sets out the main theses of the Russian camp.

Medvedchuk poses as a representative of the “peace party” against a “neo-Nazi” and warlike Ukrainian elite manipulated by the West.

The state media are responsible for protecting his stature – invited by Channel One, he is presented as “one of the most famous opponents in Ukraine”.

“Getting the Ukrainian people out of the impasse”

Deprived of his media resources, discredited in Ukrainian public opinion, he nevertheless undertakes to continue, in exile, his activities between influence and disinformation.

Unlike Viktor Yanukovych, certainly a good manager, Viktor Medvedchuk has ideas.

The man is indebted to the Kremlin but also intends, according to Meduza journalist Andreï Pertsev, to take advantage of his status as a privileged intermediary with Vladimir Putin.

“He asserts the merits of his approach to obtain funds and negotiates new business in Russia,” says this fine connoisseur of Russian political practices.

Its ambitions take shape under the “Other Ukraine” project.

Officially, it is a public organization whose legal representation is located in the center of Moscow, a few meters from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This organization, which has chosen information as its field of action, "tries to interact with Ukrainians with pro-Russian beliefs, inside Ukraine and outside its borders", specifies journalist Maksym Savtchouk. 

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Be careful, this is a deepfake

The team is made up of journalists and commentators from the old channel 112, dissolved by the authorities, but also disgraced political figures and political technologists in search of new perspectives.

Almost all accused of separatism or state treason.

The nature of the project remains nebulous: “The Other Ukraine” is defined as a “movement” of which Viktor Medvedchuk would be the “president of the council”.

“It seems to me that they themselves do not know exactly what the real purpose is,” adds the Radio Svoboda journalist.

On the site, the oligarch regularly publishes posts on Ukrainian domestic politics, the conduct of the war and the necessary understanding with Russia.

But “Medvedchuk is only the public face of this project,” explains Anton Chekhovtsov, director of the Center for Democratic Integrity (Austria).

The expert assures that his strategy was entrusted to the Social Design Agency (SDA) of Ilya Gambachidze, a political technologist involved in recent Russian disinformation campaigns targeting international opinion.

A thesis accredited by information broadcast at the end of December by a clearly well-informed Telegram channel.

Followed by nearly 900,000 subscribers, this account, named @vchkogpu, "reveals the secrets of officials, oligarchs, gangsters and siloviki [members of the Russian security services, Editor's note]", lifted the veil on the contours of the market passed between the SDA and the presidential administration: the documents shared by the account, the authenticity of which cannot be guaranteed, detail the nature of the services and the cost of each of them.

Test different stories

“'The Other Ukraine' aims to better understand the Ukrainian population favorable to Russia and to ensure an informational connection with them, analyzes Anton Chekhovtsov. It is a question of taking their pulse and measuring their reaction to this or that. such proposed story".

The visual identity of the project is the famous monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1657), in the center of kyiv.

A choice loaded with meaning as the posterity of this Cossack leader remains controversial.

If the latter is considered by some as a symbol of the Ukrainian state, “The Other Ukraine” honors the one who sought protection from Moscow.

In the collective work “Shared History, Divided Memories” (Antipodes ed.), historians Volodymyr Masliychuk and Andrii Portnov recall the inscription, in Russian, which initially appeared on the pedestal of the monument: it is “Russia, united and indivisible", which then paid homage to him.

Also readBehind the scenes of the Russian troll factory, the Internet Research Agency

This “other Ukraine” promoted in Moscow has as a condition of existence a relationship of unconditional loyalty towards Russia.

Religion, which has its own tab on the site, occupies a significant place in the unfolding story.

But for Maksym Savtchouk, who investigates corruption for Radio Svoboda, this new influence operation is not working.

“In Ukraine, this project is seen as a gathering of outcasts that Medvedchuk feeds with rubles to do the same thing they did not so long ago on his now closed television channels.”

Inaccessible in Ukraine without a VPN, the project appears primarily to be aimed at the country's former pro-Russian base, whose political representatives are themselves divided.

“The Other Ukraine” notably manages “assistance centers” intended to support Ukrainians temporarily in Russia and wishing to settle there permanently.

But the “movement” also intends to extend its influence beyond Ukraine and Russia: last December, it announced the opening of a section in Serbia – led by Dragan Stanojevic, pro-Russian figure of the class politician who has long conducted business in Ukraine.

“A mutually beneficial collaboration in the information field,” judges Maksym Savtchouk.

"For Stanojevic, this branch is a way of appearing even closer to Putin among his electorate; for Medvedchuk, it is proof that his organization is influential and that it is taking on an international dimension. The fact that the Ukrainian ministry in demanding the closure gave importance to the 'Other Ukraine': we started talking about it."

But making Viktor Medvedchuk a figure inspiring respect, recognized as a credible interlocutor abroad, appears to be a singularly ambitious objective.

“I don't think the SDA will be able to improve its image, even though this is a fundamental element for the project to be effective,” says Anton Chekhovtsov.

"The face of 'The Other Ukraine' must be a personality interviewed by the international media, that people want to know better. Except that is not the case. But then not at all."

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