By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk
KYIV – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday said Ukraine had uncovered a plot to overthrow his government next week involving individuals from Russia, although he declined to say whether he thought the Kremlin was behind it.
Speaking at an hours-long press conference, Zelenskiy said Ukrainian intelligence had obtained audio recordings of the plotters, including people from Russia, trying to rope business magnate Rinat Akhmetov into joining a coup.
The Kremlin swiftly denied any role in any coup plot, saying it had no plans to take part in such acts. A spokesperson for Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, had no immediate comment.
“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 Dec. 1-2,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy was speaking amid rocketing tensions between Ukraine and Russia that have raised fears that a simmering conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists could escalate into open war between the two neighbours.
Ukraine’s sovereign dollar bonds tumbled to their lowest in more than a year on Friday and the cost of insuring exposure to the country’s debt soared amid rising security concerns.
Zelenskiy did not give full details of the coup plot. Asked explicitly whether he thought the Kremlin was involved, he said: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it.”
But he also spoke at length at the press conference of a threat of Russian military escalation, and said Ukraine would be ready for it.
Russia has been building up forces near its border with Ukraine. Kyiv, the United States 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.
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet last week that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.
Ukraine, which wants to join the NATO military alliance, received a large consignment of U.S. ammunition and Javelin missiles earlier this year, prompting criticism from Moscow.
Zelenskiy also said his chief of staff Andriy Yermak would soon be contacting representatives of Russia about the standoff between the two countries. Separately, Yermak said he would be contacting senior Kremlin official Dmitry Kozak.
Russia has said it suspects Ukraine of wanting to recapture separatist-controlled territory by force. Zelenskiy said Ukraine had no such plans and added that Russia’s rhetoric about NATO expansion – Ukraine hopes to join the Western alliance, a step which Moscow strongly opposes – was a worrying signal.