Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko landed in Kyiv on Monday to face treason charges in a case he says was trumped up by allies of his successor, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
During a brief standoff at border control after arriving on a flight from Warsaw, Poroshenko accused border guards of confiscating his passport. He then emerged in front of a crowd of thousands of cheering, flag-waving supporters outside the airport.
Poroshenko’s return sets up a confrontation with President Zelenskiy’s government in what critics say is a misguided distraction as Ukraine prepares for a possible Russian military offensive and seeks support from its Western allies.
Western diplomats have called for political unity in Ukraine ahead of the arrival of Poroshenko, who served as president from 2014 to 2019.
Poroshenko, 56, is being investigated for alleged treason linked to funding Russian-backed separatist fighters through illegal coal sales in 2014-15. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted. His party accused Zelenskiy of a reckless attempt to silence political opposition.
Zelenskiy’s administration says prosecutors and the judiciary are independent and accuses Poroshenko of thinking he is above the law.
“We are not here to protect Poroshenko, but to unite and protect Ukraine,” Poroshenko told the crowd, before heading to the Pechersk court in central Kyiv for a hearing on his case, then that supporters chanted outside the building.
During a break in the hearing, he told the crowd: “The authorities are confused, weak and instead of fighting (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, they are trying to fight us.”
Tetiana Sapyan, spokeswoman for the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR), told a separate briefing that the DBR was apolitical.
REINFORCEMENT OF RUSSIAN TROOPS
On Friday, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff dismissed suggestions that Zelenskiy was behaving like Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian-backed former president whose political rival Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed in a case Western countries have widely condemned as politicized. .
The row has raged as Ukraine tries to rally Western support in its standoff with Moscow after it sounded the alarm over a buildup of tens of thousands of Russian troops near its borders.
A confectionery magnate, Poroshenko was elected to head a pro-Western government after the Maidan protests that toppled Yanukovych in 2014.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia fell apart in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and backed separatist fighters in a conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskiy defeated Poroshenko in an election in 2019. He ran on a ticket to fight corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs in the former Soviet republic.
Prosecutors in December asked a Ukrainian court to arrest Poroshenko, with the possibility of bail set at 1 billion hryvnia ($37 million).