Ukraine President Says Russia Is Backing a Planned Coup
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of backing a plan to overthrow him, in remarks that threaten to aggravate tense relations between Kyiv and Moscow as Western officials warn of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Zelensky told reporters Friday that he had received information through Ukrainian security services that a coup would be undertaken on Dec. 1-2, according to Ukraine’s national news agency, Ukrinform. He said the Ukrainian government had intelligence as well as audio intercepts.
He said Russian and Ukrainian conspirators were heard on the audio intercepts discussing the possible participation of billionaire Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov in the alleged plot.
“They suggest a billion dollars will be allocated, and so on,” Mr. Zelensky said. “He is being dragged into the war against the state of Ukraine. I think he started it. I think it will be a big mistake for him, because you can’t fight against your people, against the president who was elected by the people of Ukraine."
Mr. Zelensky said he invited Mr. Akhmetov, a coal, steel and media magnate, to meet and be briefed on the matter, but the Ukrainian president declined to reveal further details to reporters.
Mr. Akhmetov’s spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations made against him by Mr. Zelensky.
The two men have had rocky relations in recent years as the Ukrainian president has sought to decrease the influence of oligarchs, who gained control of state assets and seized much of the former Soviet republic’s wealth after it gained independence in 1991.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegation that Moscow was involved in a scheme to topple Mr. Zelensky, telling reporters Friday that “Russia never takes part in such things."
The Ukrainian president’s remarks come as the U.S. and NATO officials have warned that a recent buildup of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s eastern border could be a prelude to a planned invasion by Moscow of its smaller neighbor.
The Kremlin has denied it has such plans and has accused Washington of fomenting tension and destabilizing the region.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the U.S. is in close talks with its European allies on the situation and has reiterated that Washington has “real concerns about Russia’s unusual military activity on the border with Ukraine.”
Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried told reporters Friday that the U.S. was in contact with the Ukrainian government about Mr. Zelensky’s comments and that more discussions would take place with Ukraine as part of a NATO foreign-ministers’ meeting next week.
European officials have said they understand the seriousness of the matter, but acknowledged that Western intelligence analysts remain uncertain of the Kremlin’s real intentions.
Mr. Zelensky told reporters Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin must publicly declare that he isn’t preparing a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“I think this signal would be important now,” independent Ukrainian news agency Unian cited the president as saying.
The escalating Russian military activity on the border has rattled foreign investor confidence, pushing prices of Ukrainian government bonds to their lowest levels in more than a year.
The price of Ukraine’s $1.3 billion 7.75% bond due 2024 fell to around 100 cents on the dollar on Wednesday from around 107 cents two weeks earlier, its lowest level since October 2020, according to Advantage Data. A bond due 2040 with payments linked to Ukraine’s economic performance has fallen about 16% since mid-November to 89 cents on the dollar.