KYIV, Ukraine – The president of Ukraine on Friday claimed his country's intelligence service has uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d'etat in the country next week that allegedly involves one of Ukraine's richest oligarchs.
Both the oligarch and the Russian government rejected the allegations. In Massachusetts, where he is spending a holiday weekend, President Joe Biden expressed concern and renewed U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty and self-government.
At a news conference in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not give many details to back up his allegation, but pointed to a suspected role of Ukraine's richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov.
The president said that Ukrainian intelligence has audio recordings of an alleged meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials discussing a plan for a coup allegedly funded by Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated at $7.5 billion.
Zelenskyy refused to disclose further details about the alleged coup, saying only that he doesn't plan to flee the country.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations in comments to journalists in Moscow on Friday.
“Russia had no plans to get involved,” Peskov said. “Russia never does such things at all.”
Akhmetov called Zelenskyy's allegations “an absolute lie.” “I am outraged by the spread of this lie, no matter what the president's motives are,” Akhmetov said in a statement, relayed to the Associated Press by his spokeswoman.
Biden told U.S. reporters he expected to talk to Putin and Zelenskyy, “in all probability.”
Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kyiv-based political analyst and head of the Penta Center think tank, told the AP that Zelenskyy targeted Akhmetov after a “proper information war” was waged against the president over the last two months on TV channels the oligarch owns.
The analyst pointed to discontent among Ukrainian oligarchs, including Akhmetov, over a law pushed by Zelenskyy that limits their influence on politics.
Fesenko called Zelenskyy's accusation “a pre-emptive signal” for the oligarch not to get involved in “risky political ventures, cross the 'red lines' and negotiate with Moscow.”
In recent weeks, Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern that a Russian military buildup near Ukraine could signal plans by Moscow to invade its ex-Soviet neighbor. The Kremlin insists it has no such intention.