Ukraine’s largest and, according to recent polls, most popular opposition party could be prohibited under proposals put forward by a major city council, just weeks after opposition-owned TV channels were banned from the airwaves.
Local deputies from Lvov, near the Polish border, voted through the motion on Thursday. In it, they demand that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky act to outlaw the Opposition Platform – for Life (OPZZh). The party, which has the second highest number of seats in the national parliament after Zelensky’s own Servant of the People, draws much of its support from ethnic Russian speakers and those living in the East of the country. It has consistently criticized the escalation of tensions with Moscow since Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan.
The Lvov Portal, a Ukrainian-language news site, reports that the motion accused OPZZh of “openly flirting with the aggressor country, the Russian Federation,” as well as manipulating “moral norms, language issues and friendship with Russia.” This, they argue, contributes to divisions in Ukraine.
The text of the motion shared by the outlet brands the party as “an internal enemy, undermining the foundations of statehood.” In a stark warning, “Russian tanks always follow pro-Russian politicians,” they claim, insisting that “to prevent this, we must ban the activities of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces today.”
Last month, the leader of OPZZh, Viktor Medvedchuk, was sanctioned by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. A spokesman for the agency, Alexei Danilov, told journalists that the sanctions would affect “all the property that Mr. Medvedchuk owns,” as well as any assets belonging to his wife, Oksana. While details of the charges are still yet to be made public, they are understood to relate to allegations of financing for terrorist groups. A poll by the Kiev-based research group Rating claimed to show that more than half of Ukrainians surveyed said they agreed with the sanctions.
Weeks prior, a number of television channels and news sites belonging to a media empire owned by one of Medvedchuk’s MPs, Taras Kozak, were banned from broadcasting by officials in Kiev. A government spokesman said at the time that the move was “not about the media and not about freedom of speech… it’s just about effectively countering fakes and foreign propaganda.” However, the outlets were owned by Ukrainians, producing content in Ukraine for the almost one in three citizens who say they speak Russian as a first language at home.
In an exclusive interview with RT, Medvedchuk slammed the decision as a power grab by Zelensky. “I think that political repression, the establishment of a dictatorship, the closure of channels, the policy of discrimination against the Russian language, the policy of Russophobia and the policy of usurping power are the result of him struggling to maintain and increase his authority and his ratings,” the opposition leader argued. “This is exactly the kind of illegal and unconstitutional way that violates the current legislation of our country, going out of the legal framework and really violating all the principles of democracy.”
One recent poll put popular support for OPZZh at around double the level secured by Zelensky’s party. The president and his party have come under fire in recent months for a faltering economy and allegedly poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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