Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says he is returning to Ukraine to fight treason charges even though he views them as politically motivated, because he believes that fighting them is part of his defence of national unity.
Mr Poroshenko spoke at a news conference in Warsaw on Sunday, hours before he was due to fly on Monday from the Polish capital to the Ukranian capital Kyiv where he is to face the allegations in court.
A prosecutor has alleged that Mr Poroshenko was involved in the sale of large amounts of coal that helped finance Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014/15.
Mr Poroshenko insists that he is innocent and accuses prosecutors under his successor, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of seeking to harm him politically to distract from Ukraine’s widespread problems, including economic woes and rising numbers of deaths from Covid-19.
It is the latest in a string of accusations levelled against Mr Poroshenko since he was defeated by Mr Zelenskyy in 2019.
The allegations have generated concerns of undemocratic score-settling in Ukraine and also alarmed Ukraine’s allies. They come as Russia has built up troops along the Ukraine border and the United States has voiced concerns that Russian president Vladimir Putin might be planning an invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Poroshenko said he saw charges he faced as harmful for the country at such a time.
He said Ukraine’s leadership was responsible for unity in the country, and what “Russia really is looking for is disintegration and conflict inside the country”.
“I think this is a very irresponsible action of the current leadership to disintegrate the country and ruin the unity,” he said.
“I will fight for Ukraine,” Mr Poroshenko said, adding that he considered a fight against the “politically motivated” charges to be part of his fight for the nation.
Mr Poroshenko, one of the country’s richest people, is owner of the Roshen confectionery empire. He has been outside Ukraine, meeting with leaders in Brussels, Warsaw and elsewhere.
The Kyiv court has already frozen Mr Poroshenko’s assets as part of its investigation into the allegations of high treason.
For his part, Mr Zelenskyy says he is waging a fight against oligarchs that is aimed at reducing their influence in Ukraine’s political and economic life.