Volodymyr Zelenskiy says there is evidence of ‘coup d’état’ being planned for early December
Ukraine’s president has said intelligence services uncovered a plot involving a group of Russians and Ukrainians to overthrow his government next week.
Speaking at an hours-long press conference, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian intelligence had obtained audio recordings of the plotters discussing their plans, which he said involved tying to enlist the support of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.
“We have challenges not only from the Russian Federation and possible escalation – we have big internal challenges. I received information that a coup d’etat will take place in our country on December 1-2,” Zelenskiy said.
Akhmetov was not involved in the plot, Zelenskiy said. He gave no further details and did not accuse the Kremlin of playing a role. The Kremlin swiftly denied any involvement and Akhmetov said in a statement that “the information made public by Volodymyr Zelenskiy about attempts to draw me into some kind of coup is an absolute lie”.
He added: “I am outraged by the spread of this lie, no matter what the president’s motives are. My position has been and will be explicit and definite: an independent, democratic, and united Ukraine with the Crimea and my home region, Donbass. My actions live up to my words.”
Russia has been building up forces near its border with Ukraine, and Kyiv, the US and Nato have voiced concerns in recent days about a possible Russian attack – a suggestion the Kremlin has dismissed as false and alarmist.
“We are in full control of our borders and are fully prepared for any escalation,” Zelenskiy said. He did not give full details of the coup plot. Asked whether he thought the Kremlin was involved, he said: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it.”
But he also spoke at length in the press conference of a threat of Russian military escalation, and said Ukraine would be ready for it.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, repeated western concerns about the buildup on Friday and warned that if Russia used force against Ukraine, “that will have costs, that will have consequences”.
Moscow has dismissed the accusations and blamed Washington for raising tensions in the region. The Kremlin has also accused Kyiv of “provocations” in its years-long conflict with pro-Russian separatists in two breakaway eastern regions.
In an attempt to set some red lines for Putin, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have both spoken directly to him over the past two weeks. The British defence secretary, Ben Wallace, met his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv to provide a further promise of arms. Sweden’s defence minister said he was ready to send Swedish troops to Ukraine to help train the country’s military.
US intelligence officials and senior figures in Ukraine’s military have suggested as many as 92,000 Russian troops are massed to the north and east of Ukraine – many in the area around Yelnya, near Russia’s border with ally Belarus – and in Crimea, the peninsula that lies south of mainland Ukraine.
By dragging Akhmetov, 56, into the rumours of a plot, Zelenskiy is seemingly trying to gather popular support for the struggle against his external and internal foes. Ahkmetov has businesses ranging from metals, mining and energy to banking, telecommunications, real estate and the media.
With a net worth estimated by Forbes magazine at more than $7bn (£5.25bn), Akhmetov is richer than the next three Ukrainian tycoons combined. He is also the country’s largest taxpayer and employer, with about 200,000 staff nationwide.