KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asserted Friday that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in Ukraine next month and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of the country’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.
Akhmetov was not involved in the purported coup plot, however, Zelensky said.
The president offered no other details, however, leaving many questions about his motives for making the allegations public and what possible actions authorities have taken.
Akhmetov, a mining and steel tycoon, also owns media holdings, which in recent weeks have increased their criticism of Zelensky and his administration.
A statement attributed to Akhmetov called Zelensky’s claims “an absolute lie.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any Russian role in an alleged plot.
“Russia never engages in such things. There have never been such plans,” Peskov said.
Zelensky’s comments also come against a backdrop of rising tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.
Western and Ukrainian officials say that they have observed a buildup of Russian forces on the country’s border with Ukraine.
The reasons for the buildup are unclear, but U.S. and other officials say that it could be preparation for an invasion or an escalation in the seven-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine with anti-Kyiv insurgents, backed by Moscow, according to Western officials and independent researchers.
Speaking in Nantucket, Mass., President Biden told reporters that he would “in all probability” have talks with Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin over the deepening tensions.
“I believe [Akhmetov] is being dragged into the war against Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “This will be a big mistake, because it is impossible to fight against the people, against the president elected by the people of Ukraine.”
Zelensky said the alleged coup was being planned for Dec. 1 or 2. He gave no further details.
Ukrainian media in recent weeks have commented on growing tensions between Zelensky and Akhmetov. Zelensky has launched a “de-oligarchization”campaign to reduce the political influence of Ukraine’s richest people, who control key sections of the economy.
“I am outraged by the spread of this lie, no matter what the president’s motives are,” Akhmetov was quoted as saying. “My position has been and will be explicit and definite: an independent, democratic, and united Ukraine with the Crimea and my home region, Donbas.”
Donbas is part of the breakaway region in eastern Ukraine. The Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
The Ukrainian president said his country was prepared for any scenario in the volatile east.
“We are in full control of our borders and ready if there will be an escalation,” Zelensky said.
He added, however, that the number of Russian forces was smaller than during a buildup in spring this year, an episode that also caused concern about a possible Russian offensive.
Zelensky said Ukraine had received promises of support “in public and not in public” from its Western partners if Russia were to take military action, but he did not provide details.
He said that the risk of escalation or invasion from Russia was always present and that Ukraine had observed a sharp rise in aggressive comments coming from Russia, which he said was worrying.
“When Russia says it is defending its borders, it is very dangerous,” Zelensky said.
Robyn Dixon in Moscow contributed to this report.