Ukraine says it foiled Russian plot to topple its government

Fire damage is visible in an apartment that burned when it was hit by debris from a Russian missile in Kyiv on Monday. BRENDAN HOFFMAN — THE NEW YORK TIMES.

By MARC SANTORA | THE NEW YORK TIMES

KYIV, Ukraine >> Ukraine’s security service said Monday that it had foiled yet another Russian plot to stir public unrest and then use the ensuing turmoil to topple the government, outlining a familiar tactic that Kyiv claims has been employed in a string of coup attempts in recent years.

The Ukrainian domestic intelligence agency, the SBU, said that it had discovered a “group” of conspirators it accused of planning to spark a riot, seize the parliament building and replace the nation’s military and civilian leadership. Four people have been arrested and charged, according to the authorities.

While offering little detail on how such an ambitious plan could have succeeded, officials said it was a reminder that more than two years after launching a full-scale invasion of the country, the Kremlin remained determined to bring down Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government by any means.

On the battlefield, Russia continues to send tens of thousands of new soldiers to the front to replace those killed in the hopes of exhausting Ukraine’s military and Kyiv’s Western backers. At the same time, Russia’s relentless bombardment of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure is designed, in part, to throttle the economy and undermine the state’s ability to function.

The Kremlin has also long been directing more covert campaigns aimed at destabilizing the government in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian and Western officials, in some cases attempting to stir discontent with disinformation.

The plot outlined by Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency and prosecutors on Monday fit squarely in that pattern.

It was meant to start with a riot, according to Ukrainian officials.

The organizers — described as agents working on behalf of Russia — were planning to hold “an allegedly peaceful gathering in the center of the capital,” said Artem Dekhtyarenko, the spokesperson for the SBU.

Most of those who gathered would be “in the dark” about the plot, he said. Once there were several thousand people, Dekhtyarenko said, the organizers “planned to disseminate information about the unrest in Kyiv through domestic and foreign information resources.”

“In this way, they hoped to undermine the sociopolitical situation inside our country, which would play in favor of Russia,” he said in a statement.

The accused also planned to use the moment “to announce the removal from power of the current military and political leadership of Ukraine,” he added, saying that they hoped to “seize” the parliament building “and block its work.”

Storming and then securing heavily guarded government buildings would have likely proven challenging, raising questions about the viability of the plot and how far along it was. But officials said that beyond the specifics, the plot was meant to create an atmosphere of chaos that could undermine faith in the government.

Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said four men had been charged and served notices of suspicion of treason, with two remanded in custody ahead of trial as a “precaution.”

“He rented a hall in Kyiv that could accommodate 2,000 people, and also searched for military and armed guards from private structures to carry out the takeover” of the parliament, the prosecutor’s office said.

The plot bore similarities to a string of other attempts that the Ukrainian security services have reported since even before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

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