Ukraine leader alleges Russia-backed coup planned next week
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said his country’s intelligence service has uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d’etat in the country set for next week that allegedly involves one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs.
Both the oligarch and the Russian government rejected the allegations. In Nantucket, Mass., where he is spending a holiday weekend, President Biden expressed concern at the coup talk and renewed U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-government.
At a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Zelensky said he received information that a coup was being planned for Wednesday or Thursday. He did not give many details to back up his allegation, but pointed to a suspected role of Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov.
The president said that Ukrainian intelligence has audio recordings of a meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials discussing a plan for a coup allegedly funded by Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated at $7.5 billion.
Zelensky refused to disclose further details about the alleged coup.
Stocks sank Friday, with the Dow briefly falling more than 1,000 points, as a new coronavirus variant appeared to be spreading across the globe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations Friday. “Russia had no plans to get involved,” Peskov said. “Russia never does such things at all.”
Akhmetov 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, relayed to the Associated Press by spokeswoman Anna Terekhova.
Asked about the alleged coup plans, the U.S. State Department’s top official for European and Eurasian affairs, Karen Donfried, said: “We are in touch with the Ukrainian government to discuss this further, and we’re working to obtain additional information.”
Biden told U.S. reporters that he expected to talk to Putin and Zelensky.
Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kyiv-based analyst and head of the political studies think tank Penta, told AP that Zelensky targeted Akhmetov after a “proper information war” was waged against the president over the last two months on TV channels the oligarch owns.
A mass protest in front of the president’s office is being planned for Dec. 1.
The analyst pointed to great discontent among Ukrainian oligarchs over a law pushed by Zelensky that limits their influence on politics.
Fesenko called Zelensky’s reference to Akhmetov in connection with 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.”
In recent weeks, Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern that a Russian military buildup near Ukraine could signal plans by Moscow to invade the former Soviet republic. The Kremlin contends that it has no such intention and has accused Ukraine and its Western backers of making the claims to cover up their own aggressive designs.
Zelensky said Ukraine has full control of its borders and is ready for any escalation of the conflict with Russia.
He also said the head of his office, Andriy Yermak, will soon be in contact with the Russian authorities at the request of the European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“They want contacts between our administration and the Russian administration. I think that in the near future Yermak will contact them. We are absolutely not against” this, Zelensky said.
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