Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters at a Nov. 26 press briefing in Kyiv that his country’s intelligence services had uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup, prompting the Kremlin to deny the allegations.
Zelensky claimed at the briefing that Ukrainian intelligence unearthed evidence of an imminent coup plot planned for Dec. 1 or 2, calling the development “important.”
He added that, in addition to the coup threat assessment by Ukrainian intelligence, audio recordings had emerged of an alleged meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials discussing plans for the coup, which allegedly was to be funded by one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov.
“I think they’re trying to set up” Akhmetov, the Ukrainian president said. “I think that this is an operation and they’re trying to drag him into a war against Ukraine.”
Zelensky’s remarks have come in the context of a Russian military buildup near its border with Ukraine, sparking fears of a possible military invasion.
Calling Akhmetov’s alleged involvement a “great mistake,” Zelensky said he would not, unlike his ousted predecessor Viktor Yanukovych, flee the country if push came to shove.
Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated at around $7.5 billion, called Zelensky’s allegations “an absolute lie.”
“I am outraged by the spread of this lie, no matter what the President’s motives are,” Akhmetov said in a statement provided to The Associated Press by his spokeswoman Anna Terekhova.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected allegations of his country’s involvement in a coup against Zelensky in comments to journalists in Moscow on Nov. 26, Russian news agency TASS reported.
“Russia has never had any plans to take part. Russia generally never engages in such matters,” Peskov said.
Asked about the alleged coup plans, the U.S. State Department’s top official for European and Eurasian affairs, Karen Donfried, told AP that U.S. officials are in touch with the Ukrainian government and “working to obtain additional information.”
President Joe Biden told reporters on Nov. 26 that he’s concerned about the alleged coup plot, adding that he would “in all probability” call Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Zelensky’s claim.
“I am concerned. Look, we support Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We support Ukraine’s ability to govern itself. And we reject anything remotely approaching” a coup, Biden said when asked about the alleged plot.
Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kyiv-based political analyst and head of the Penta Center think tank, told AP that he believes Zelensky’s remarks implicating Akhmetov in the alleged coup “a preemptive signal” for the oligarch not to get in involved in “risky political ventures, cross the ‘red lines’ and negotiate with Moscow.”
Fesenko told the outlet that TV channels owned by Akhmetov have been waging a “proper information war” against Zelensky in recent months, noting discontent among the country’s oligarchs over a law pushed by the president to curb their influence on politics.
It comes as Ukrainian and Western officials have raised concerns that the Russian military buildup near Ukraine could be the groundwork for a military strike, with Moscow denying it has any such intentions.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan on Nov. 26 spoke with Andriy Yermak, chief of Ukraine’s presidential office, and reiterated the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine.
“They discussed their shared concerns about ongoing Russian military activities near Ukraine’s border and its harsh rhetoric towards Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement commenting on the call.
“They agreed that all sides should pursue diplomatic efforts to deescalate tensions,” Horne said, adding that Sullivan “underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Zelensky, at the Nov. 26 briefing, said Ukraine and Russia have effectively “been at war for eight years” and that the “likelihood of large-scale or continuation of a strong escalation by Russia or militants backed by the Russian Federation may take place any day.”
He said, however, that Ukraine is in full control of its borders and is ready for any escalation.