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U.S. ‘deeply’ concerned over alleged Kremlin plot to install pro-Russian regime in Ukraine

“The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future,” a National Security Council spokesperson said.

Britain’s accusation that the Kremlin is seeking to install a pro-Russian regime in Ukraine is “deeply concerning,” a National Security Council spokesperson said. 

“The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically-elected partners in Ukraine,” the spokesperson, Emily Horne, said in a statement late Saturday.

“This kind of plotting is deeply concerning,” she added.  

The accusations, which the U.K. made in a statement from the Foreign Office late Saturday, said Russia was trying to install a pro-Kremlin leader in Ukraine. It added that Russian intelligence officers had been in contact with a number of former Ukrainian politicians as part of plans for an invasion.

Former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev was being considered as a candidate to lead, said the statement, which named several other Ukrainian politicians it said had links with Russian intelligence services. 

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman sits in a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Verkhnetoretske village in the Donetsk region on Jan. 18, 2022.
A Ukrainian serviceman in a trench on the front line with Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region last week.Anatolii Stepanov / AFP - Getty Images

They included Mykola Azarov, who was prime minister under Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as president in a 2014 uprising. Yanukovych fled to Russia after three months of protests and was sentenced in absentia to 13 years in jail on treason charges in 2019.

Andriy Kluyev and Serhiy Arbuzov, who were deputy prime ministers under Yanukovych, were also named, along with Vladimir Sivkovich, a former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, who was made the subject of U.S. sanctions last week over allegations that he worked with Russian intelligence.

The U.K. Foreign Office declined to provide evidence to back its accusations at a time of high tension over Russia’s massing of troops near its border with Ukraine.

Moscow has insisted it has no plans to invade, and the Foreign Ministry dismissed the British claims as “disinformation.” Accusing the U.K. and NATO of “escalating tensions,” it said in a statement that the British Foreign Office should “stop provocative activities.”  

Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.K., said he believed the British claims because it was “not the first time” Russia had tried, “historically and in recent times,” to install a pro-Moscow leader.

Ukraine is “prepared to fight,” he told the British broadcaster Sky News, adding that the country is not well-equipped for a prolonged battle. The issue would be whether there would be a “full scale invasion” or “smaller things just to annoy us and the rest of the world,” he added. (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)

Murayev dismissed Britain’s claims that Russia wants to install him as Ukraine’s leader in comments to the British newspaper The Observer. In a Facebook post Sunday, he called for an end to dividing Ukraine into pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians.

Talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday failed to make a major breakthrough, although the men agreed to keep talking.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had issued several demands to the West, including permanently prohibiting Ukraine from joining NATO and removing most of the U.S. and allied military presence in eastern Europe. The U.S. says that is a nonstarter.

Blinken said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union” that there would be a “severe and a united response” from the U.S. and Europe if a “single additional Russian force” entered Ukraine.