Ukraine’s President says Ukraine has discovered a Russian-backed coup plot

Ukraine’s president says his country’s intelligence services have uncovered a Russian-backed plot to stage a coup against his government, amid international concern that Moscow may be preparing a deeper invasion of the country.

Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters on Friday that intelligence agencies had obtained audio recordings of conversations between unnamed Russians and Ukrainians, who he said were discussing his early removal. especially next Wednesday or Thursday.

Zelensky offered no evidence to support his claims but added that the suspected conspirators discussed raising “billions of dollars” and luring Ukraine’s richest financier Rinat Akhmetov to join him. join activities.

Concerns about a return of overt acts of hostility in Ukraine’s protracted conflict on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia have grown in recent weeks after the United States warned its allies with information. Its own intelligence suggests it’s “highly likely” that Russia’s recent military buildup on the border could be the basis for a deeper invasion, following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Ukraine estimates that Russia has expanded up to 114,000 troops in the north, east and south of the Donbas, the predominantly Russian-speaking region in the country’s far east, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting government forces since the pro-revolution Western households in Kyiv 8 years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted last week that he was pleased by the Kremlin’s “warnings” about its “red lines” – that Moscow would not accept further Western military support for Ukraine or the country. joining NATO – worried the West. He said Western powers are using Ukraine for their aggression against Moscow by funding their militaries and holding “provocative” exercises near the Russian border.

Zelensky said Ukraine’s armed forces were “prepared for any escalation” and urged Putin to stay away from the alleged plot.

“In my opinion, the President of the Russian Federation should also openly say that ‘we are not planning’. . .[and]that Russia is not prepared for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.

The Kremlin denies any involvement in the alleged coup plot. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that Russia “has no plans to get involved” and “never does things like this,” according to Interfax.

Zelensky suggested that Akhmetov’s “retinue” was trying to “draw him into” the alleged plot. He does not want to be directly related to Akhmetov but claims that there exist audio recordings that may be related to the oligarch.

“This is not only intelligence, but also audio communication, where representatives from Ukraine, so to speak, discuss Rinat Akhmetov’s involvement in the coup in Ukraine with representatives of Russia. ,” Zelensky said.

“I think [Akhmetov] may not know about it,” the president added. “I invite Rinat Akhmetov [my office] to listen for information that can be shared. ”

Akhmetov is a steel and energy magnate who held the bank for former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich but lost an estimated $7.5 billion in assets after Moscow-backed separatists seized them. some of his industrial properties in the Donbas.

He denied Zelensky’s claims. “The information made public by Volodymyr Zelensky about attempts to involve me in some sort of coup is an absolute lie. . . My position was, is and will be clear and clear: an independent, democratic and united Ukraine with Crimea and my homeland, Donbas,” Akhmetov said in a statement on Friday. .

“I will continue to defend a free Ukraine. . . I will do everything I can to stop authoritarianism and censorship in Ukraine,” he added.

The two men are embroiled in an increasingly public conflict over Zelensky’s efforts to curb broad influence. Ukrainian oligarchs political use and state contracts.

Akhmetov’s TV channels have been full of praise for Zelensky after his election victory in 2019 but have turned to harsh criticism in recent weeks.

Zelensky said on Friday that Akhmetov’s TV channels “have no right to misrepresent our public”. He also visited Akhmetov’s energy companies, showing that they are not working with the government to ensure ample supplies of coal and other fuels to prevent destabilizing power outages during the monsoon season. this winter.

Akhmetov’s companies have denied such accusations and claim they have secured vital coal imports, including for state-owned thermal power generators, after Russia blocked shipments.

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