Ukraine to target Russian influence after UK warns of plot

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Ukraine vowed to counter destabilising Russian influence over the country’s political and economic spheres Sunday in the wake of British accusations that Moscow is looking to install a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv.

The UK alleged this weekend it had information Moscow was “looking to install a pro-Russian leader” in Ukraine and accused several former politicians in Kyiv of habouring ties with Russian intelligence.

The claims are adding to tensions between Russia and the West over European security, with a recent bout of failed negotiations bringing little relief over a build-up of Russian troops around Ukraine.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, said the revelations were part and parcel of Russia’s approach towards Ukraine and said Kyiv would push back.

“Our state will continue its policy of dismantling any oligarchic or political structures that could be working to destabilise Ukraine” or “aid” Russia, he said in written comments to AFP.

Podolyak said the Kremlin had for some time followed a formula of selecting individuals in business or politics and then using those people to “promote Russia’s interests.”

“This British information clearly follows along in this logical chain,” he added.

London said it had seen evidence that several former Ukrainian politicians had maintained links with Russian intelligence services, and that former MP Yevgen Murayev was being considered as a potential leader.

Some of those in contact with Russian intelligence officers were “currently involved in the planning for an attack on Ukraine”, the Foreign Office said in a statement, though did not release details of the evidence.

‘NEW LEADERSHIP’ NEEDED

The United States said the revelations of the plot were “deeply concerning”. Moscow dismissed them as “disinformation”, and urged London to “stop spreading nonsense.”

Murayev, the former MP allegedly touted as a possible leader by Russia, on Sunday wrote on social media that ex-Soviet Ukraine was in need of sweeping political reforms and a new head of state.

“The Ukrainian people need rule of law, peace, sound and pragmatic economic and social policies, and new political leaders,” he wrote.

Murayev lost his seat in parliament when his party failed to win five percent of the vote in 2019 elections. He is understood to be the owner of a television channel that was closed last year on allegations it was airing pro-Russia propaganda.

Concerns in Ukraine have been building as tens of thousands of Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Current fears of a Russian invasion stem from Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the capture by pro-Kremlin separatists of two self-proclaimed breakaway republics in Ukraine’s east.

More than 13,000 people have died in the fighting between government forces and the pro-Russian rebels.

Pope Francis said Sunday he was following “with concern” the rising tensions and called for a day of prayer for peace next week.

That appeal came on the back of a week of talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Washington’s allies in Ukraine and then Berlin, before a meeting Friday in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

There was no breakthrough but the US has said it will respond in writing to sweeping security demands put forward by Russia in the end of last year.