Ukraine says it foiled Russian plot to kill Zelenskyy

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine listens to a question during a news conference on Dec. 12 at the White House in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s security services said Tuesday that they had foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top military and political figures. Two Ukrainian colonels accused of participating in the plot have been arrested on suspicion of treason.

The Ukrainian domestic intelligence agency, the SBU, said in a statement that the plot had involved a network of agents — including the two colonels — that was run by Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor to the KGB. According to the SBU, the agents working at Russia’s direction were tasked with identifying people close to Zelenskyy’s security detail who could take him hostage and later kill him.


The agency’s statement said the other top Ukrainian officials targeted in the plot included Vasyl Malyuk, the head of the SBU, and Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency. The Ukrainian claims could not be independently verified.

It is not the first time that Ukraine has reported a potential assassination attempt aimed at its top leaders. Zelenskyy said in an interview with an Italian television channel this year that his security services had told him of more than 10 such efforts.

Ukraine’s security services offered few details about previous assassination plots. But this time, the agency went to some length in its statement to describe how the Ukrainian officials were to be killed.

The services said the two colonels accused in the plot belonged to the State Security Administration, which protects top officials. They had been recruited before the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, according to the statement, which identified three FSB members — Maxim Mishustin, Dmytro Perlin and Oleksiy Kornev — as running the operation from Moscow. The two Ukrainian colonels were not named.

In a video released by the security services, a man identified as one of the colonels, his face blurred, describes details of the apparent plot that involved blocking Zelenskyy as he entered or left a building. The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

As for the assassination attempt aimed at Budanov, the services said it was planned to take place before Orthodox Easter, which was celebrated on May 5. The FSB’s network of agents in Ukraine was tasked with observing and passing on information about Budanov’s whereabouts, the Ukrainian security services said.

Once his location had been confirmed and communicated, he would have been targeted in a multilayered attack involving a rocket strike, followed by a drone attack to kill people who were fleeing and then a second rocket strike, the security services said.

Weapons for the attack were provided to one of the colonels, including attack drones, ammunition for a rocket launcher and anti-personnel mines, according to the security services and Ukraine’s prosecutor general. The colonel was to pass the weapons to other agents to carry out the assault, the Ukrainian statement said.

Russia made no immediate comment about the accusations.

The apparent assassination plot is just the latest in a series of attempted or successful attacks on Ukrainian figures.

Budanov’s wife was poisoned late last year, according to the Ukrainian military intelligence agency, in an incident that led to widespread speculation that Russia was stepping up efforts to target Ukraine’s senior leadership. Budanov said in February that it was difficult to say if the poisoning was an attempt to murder him, but he hinted that Russia was behind it.

Zelenskyy has also been the target of numerous assassination attempts, according to Ukraine’s security services. As recently as last month, the SBU reported that it had arrested, in cooperation with Polish security services, a Polish man who it said had offered to spy for Russia as part of a plot to assassinate Zelenskyy.

Ukraine is also believed to have been involved in the killing of several pro-Kremlin voices in Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that parts of the Ukrainian government authorized a car bombing that in 2022 killed Daria Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian nationalist. And in December, a former Ukrainian lawmaker living near Moscow was assassinated by Ukrainian security service agents, according to a report by The Financial Times that cited two Ukrainian officials with direct knowledge of the incident.

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