- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2021

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that opposition figures were planning a coup d’etat in the coming weeks, heightening tensions in a country already dealing with mounting pressure from Russia across the border.

Mr. Zelenskyy said Russian and Ukrainian plotters were trying to recruit the country’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, into their plans, according to The Washington Post.

The Ukrainian leader cited audio recordings of the plotters in which they float Mr. Akhmetov’s name. 

“I believe [Akhmetov] is being dragged into the war against Ukraine,” Mr. Zelenskyy said during a series of press calls Friday, the Post reported. “This will be a big mistake, because it is impossible to fight against the people, against the president elected by the people of Ukraine.”

Mr. Zelenskyy did not say whether he thought the Kremlin in Moscow was behind the alleged plot, according to Reuters. The Russian TASS news agency said the president claimed the coup was being planned for Dec. 1.

The comments come amid ongoing tensions between Mr. Zelenskyy and Mr. Akhmetov and broader concerns about a buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin has long provided support and sanctuary to pro-Russian separatists in southern and eastern Ukraine who have been battling the central government since 2014, in a conflict that has already killed more than 13,000 fighters and civilians.

Mr. Zelenskyy said Ukraine is prepared for any scenario, including an invasion involving the separatist forces.

“We are in full control of our borders and ready if there will be an escalation,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.

The tensions between Russia and the West were also on display Friday as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued an unusually stern warning to Moscow about the buildup of Russian troops near the border, a buildup that has sparked fears Russia was planning to invade.

“If Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that would have consequences,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a summit of NATO foreign ministers early next week in Riga, Latvia.

“This military buildup is unprovoked and unexplained. It raises tensions and it risks miscalculations,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, according to a report by the Associated Press. He conceded that “there is no certainty about the intentions of Russia” but said that “this is a military buildup by a country that has invaded Ukraine before.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Riga meeting and then to Sweden for a meeting of officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Ukraine will be a top agenda item, Karen Donfried, a top State Department official on European affairs, said in a Friday preview of the trip.

“What we’re doing now is monitoring the region closely, consult with our allies and partners on how do we deter Russian action, and ideally that is what we want to be doing right now,” Ms. Donfried said. ” We do not want to see any Russian military incursion into Ukraine.”

David R. Sands contributed to this story.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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