President Zalansky accused Russian officials of plotting to oust him from power, claiming he had obtained recordings of them talking to Ukrainian officials about the inclusion of the country’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, in connection – to fund the coup. The Kremlin: “We never do things like that.” In the background: tensions due to the concentration of Russian forces near the border. NATO Secretary General: “Russia will pay a price if it invades”
In the shadow of the high tensions with Russia, which in recent weeks has concentrated large military forces near its country’s borders, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalansky accused yesterday (Friday) that officials from Russia and Ukraine had planned to oust him from power as early as next week. He refrained from directly blaming Moscow for this connection, claiming that those individuals whose details he did not disclose conspired to attach to their program the richest oligarch in Ukraine, in order to fund the coup.
At a lengthy press conference in Kiev, Zalansky claimed he had received information that the coup was planned to take place this coming Wednesday, or Thursday. He said that Ukrainian intelligence had received recordings in which the same Russian and Ukrainian officials were heard planning the coup and discussing how to “drag into the war against the Ukrainian state” the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated at $ 7.5 billion.
The Ukrainian president declined to divulge further details about the plot, and when asked by one of the reporters if the Kremlin was involved in it, he replied evasively: “I’m sorry, I can not talk about it.” Zalanski added that this was an attempt to undermine his country’s stability: “I do not think Ukrainian society wants this. The state does not want this. The people who want it are the ones who have lost power.” He declared that he did not intend to flee his country because of the alleged conspiracy. Instead, he added, he intends to invite those involved in the relationship to his office – noting that he has already sent an invitation to Akhmetov.
Although he did not directly accuse the Kremlin of plotting a coup, Moscow was quick to vehemently deny any involvement. “Russia has no plans to intervene,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Russia never does such things,” he added. The same oligarch who was marked by Zlansky also denied that he was involved, and that he said it was a “complete lie.” A statement from his spokesman said: “I am outraged by the spread of this lie, no matter what the president’s motives.”
Vladimir Pasenko, a political analyst from Kiev who heads the Panetta research institute, told the Associated Press that in the background of Zlanski’s allegations about Akhmetov is a “propaganda war” being waged over the past two months against the Ukrainian president by television channels owned by the oligarch. In parallel with the media attacks by those channels, a mass protest is planned near Zalanski’s office this coming Wednesday.
Pasenko further noted that among many oligarchs in Ukraine – including Akhmetov – there is great frustration with the law that Zalansky promoted, which limited their ability to influence politicians in the country. He said that by explicitly mentioning Akhmetov at yesterday’s press conference, Zalansky sent him a kind of warning – “not to cross the red lines,” as Pasenko put it, “and to take part in dangerous political adventures.”
The Ukrainian president’s accusations of planning a coup against him come amid growing tensions in recent weeks between Moscow and Kiev, following the concentration of Russian forces near Ukraine’s borders. Kiev claims that Moscow is preparing for an attack on it, while the Russian government claims that it is the Ukrainians who are preparing for the attack – on the pro-Russian separatists who control the Donovsk region in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin also accuses the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of further increasing its activities in the Ukraine region, and that the threat posed by this Western alliance to Russia requires a response.
According to US intelligence estimates, in recent weeks Russia has deployed between 90,000 and 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. U.S. officials have said they are not sure if Russian President Putin intends to order his army to invade Ukraine, but stressed that military activity in the region creates a range of options for Moscow. Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kirilo Bodnov claimed that Russia was preparing to launch an attack on his country no later than late January or early February, and warned that such an attack could include airstrikes, artillery fire and armored forces in eastern Ukraine, as well as amphibious attacks in Odessa and southern Mariupol. Bodnov estimated that a Russian attack would also include a smaller-scale invasion through Belarus.
In the West, there is growing concern about the concentration of Russian forces, and Moscow is being warned of serious consequences in case it decides to invade Ukraine. “All the options are on the table, and we have a set of tools that includes a whole range of options,” Karen Donfried, the U.S. secretary of state for Eurasian affairs, said yesterday. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also issued a stern warning yesterday: “If Russia uses force against Ukraine – this will have a price, it will have consequences.” Stoltenberg did not say what the “price” would be, but added that much tension at the border increases the risk of miscalculation on the part of one side, one that could ignite a real confrontation. He also mentioned that this is the second time this year that Russia is concentrating many forces near the border, and said that the move was made without any provocation from the Ukrainian side.
In Russia, of course, they claim otherwise. “The number of provocations is growing,” a Kremlin spokesman Peskov said this week regarding the activities of NATO forces near Russia’s borders. “These provocations are being carried out with weapons supplied to Ukraine by NATO countries,” he added. In recent months, Moscow has expressed disgust at the deepening of ties between Ukraine and NATO, an organization in which it sees the greatest threat to it.
Ukraine, it will be recalled, was until less than a decade ago a close ally of Russia, but after the coup in which the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, and replaced by a pro-Western government, the two collapsed: Moscow invaded the Crimean peninsula And annexed it to its territory on the grounds that it belonged to it, and began to provide military assistance to pro-Russian separatists who had taken control of the Donovsk region in eastern Ukraine. Kiev wants to regain this rope, and Russia claims from time to time that the Ukrainian government is preparing for an attack there. Moscow emphasizes that it will not sit idly by in the face of such an attack.