KYIV, Ukraine - Ukraine's former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro O. Poroshenko, returned to Kiev on Monday, facing a possible arrest, adding internal political unrest to the growing threat of a Russian invasion.
Sir. Poroshenko's return focused on Ukraine's faltering policies, which were mostly in the background in recent weeks as the United States and its allies in Europe fought to prevent Russian military intervention.
He arrived at Kiev Zhuliani Airport on Monday morning, where a scene broke out at the passport control. Sir. Poroshenko said that for some time border guards refused to allow him to enter the country, even though he was to appear for a court hearing later in the day in Kiev. He later passed the border checkpoint but said authorities had confiscated his passport.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been involved in a long-running feud with Mr. Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019. Mr. Poroshenko faces a court hearing late Monday morning accused of high treason and supporting terrorism.
His appearance in the capital, where he once ruled, comes after a week of mostly vain negotiations between Russia and the West to seek a solution to tense disagreements over security in Eastern Europe.
In Kiev, there were divided opinions on whether the threat of an arrest was just another maneuver in Ukraine's typically Byzantine policy at home, or something more ominously related to the Russian threat.
Analysts suggested that Mr Zelensky might seize the distraction of the Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border to equate an opponent, or that he hoped to quell possible opposition protests if he was forced to make unpopular concessions to Moscow to avoid a invasion. .
"Perhaps he thinks that with forces on the border, Ukrainians will not protest" an arrest of the opposition leader, said Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor-in-chief of Ukraine World, a magazine covering politics. If so, he said, it's a risky move.
"With the situation on the border when everyone is shouting, 'There will be a war,' it's very strange," said Mr. Yermolenko on the play with Ukraine's two leading politicians who quarrel despite the existential threat to their country. "It just seems ridiculous."
Opinion polls have consistently shown that Mr Zelensky and Mr Poroshenko are Ukraine's most popular politicians. Sir. Poroshenko has a base of support in Ukrainian nationalist policies, especially in the western regions of the country, which want closer ties with Europe, and he has criticized Mr Zelensky for giving ground in peace talks with Russia to resolve the war in eastern Ukraine.
Sir. Poroshenko left Ukraine last month, saying he had meetings in Europe. Prosecutors say he went to avoid a court hearing.
Mr. Zelensky's aides have said the charges against Mr. Poroshenko is justified, and that the courts decided the time of the arrest and other acts, including the freezing of Mr. Poroshenko's assets earlier this month.
The former president was accused of missing a court hearing last month while traveling abroad. He returned to Ukraine on Monday despite reports in the Ukrainian news media that a court had issued a sealed order for his arrest.
Sir. Poroshenko left the presidency in 2019 when he lost an election to Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian who posed as an outsider to politics that would fight corruption and uproot the entrenched interests of Ukraine's political class. Mr. Zelensky's popularity has since declined. Opinion polls today show only a small advantage in a potential future election against Mr Poroshenko, who is now a Member of Parliament for the European Solidarity Party.
In an interview before his return to Ukraine, Mr Poroshenko said that his arrest could help Mr Zelensky to equate a rival, but that political instability would play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
"He wants to undermine the stability of Ukraine," Mr Poroshenko said of Mr Putin. »He analyzes two versions: One version is a military aggression through the Ukrainian-Russian or Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The second is simply to undermine stability inside Ukraine, and in this way just stop Ukraine from our future membership of NATO and the EU. "
Understand the escalating tensions over Ukraine
Sir. Poroshenko provided no evidence of a Russian hand in the political unrest, describing internal Ukrainian feuds as the most likely cause of the legal pressure he faced. But he said Mr Zelensky could hope to win concessions from Russia by arresting a politician who is in line with the nationalist wing of Ukrainian politics.
"I am absolutely convinced that this is a very important gift for Putin," Mr Poroshenko said. "Perhaps with this gift he would initiate negotiations with Putin as a precondition."
After gathering tens of thousands of troops at Ukraine's border through the autumn, Russia last month demanded that the United States and NATO withdraw forces from Eastern European countries and guarantee that Ukraine will not join the Western alliance.
Diplomatic talks with Russia last week ended indefinitely, and Russian officials now say they are awaiting a written response to their demands from the United States.
As an emergency, if diplomacy fails, Ukraine has also quietly held talks with Russia and proposed a bilateral meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin. On Friday, the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian President, Andri Yermak, proposed a three-way video conference with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders and President Biden.
Sir. Poroshenko's controversial return was not the first sign of political unrest. In November, just as Russia was increasing its broadcasts along the border, Mr. Zelensky reporters that Russia also planned a coup.
He said Russian agents were trying to pull one of Ukraine's wealthy businessmen, Rinat Akhmetov, into a conspiracy against his government. The businessman "was drawn into a war against the Ukrainian state," said Mr. Zelensky, but he presented no evidence and did nothing to arrest Mr. Akhmetov.
Sir. Akhmetov vehemently denied any involvement in a conspiracy to undermine Mr Zelensky's government.