The last time Ukrainians heard of Yevhen Murayev was when the pro-Russian former legislature unveiled a banner in Central Kiev last fall with the caption “This is our country!” After a public outcry, it was removed a few hours later – an indication of his dwindling political fortune.
Murayev appeared to be destined to remain in the dark until Saturday, when the UK claimed he was in line to head a flexible Ukrainian government as part of a Russian regime change plot.
Western powers say Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering a renewed invasion of the country after joining more than 100,000 troops at the border. The US and the UK have warned in recent days that Moscow could move to overthrow Putin’s Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We are concerned and have been warning for weeks about exactly this kind of tactic,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, referring to British allegations. “It’s very much part of the Russian playbook.”
But the British allegations, for which London provided no evidence and which Russia rejected, became widely regarded as far-fetched in Ukraine – including Murayev, who posted a photo of his face painted on James Bond’s body. Photoshop is and said the claims are “a question” for Mr Bean “.
“If Russia really has plans to destabilize the situation in Ukraine and bring a pro-Russian government to power, then it is a poorly thought-out plan that will not be supported by Ukrainian society. Russia has never understood Ukraine “And it does not want to understand,” said Oleksiy Haran, head of research at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Kyiv think tank. “Russia may have such plans, but it is absolutely absurd.”
Murayev, a native of the eastern city of Kharkiv, helped former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov escape across the border into Russia in 2014 after a revolution in Kiev ousted Moscow-bound President Viktor Yanukovich.
Murayev remained in Ukraine as an MP for the successor to Yanukovych’s party, and then separated in 2016 from setting up two of his own. In 2018, Russia placed him under sanctions – a move he blames for an outburst with Viktor Medvedchuk, a Putin confidant and the Kremlin’s longtime main political ally in Ukraine.
He was one of three pro-Russian candidates running for president in 2019, but dropped out before the vote. Murayev’s party a few months later failed to reach the 5 percent threshold to win seats in parliament.
“The only way there will be a puppet government is if there is an invasion [ . . .] and I just can not believe that Yevhen Murayev can be a candidate to lead it, “said Vadim Novinsky, an oligarch and MP for a rival Russia-affiliated party. “It’s total nonsense.”
In recent months, Murayev, who owns a large Ukrainian TV station, has begun planning for a political return after Kyiv put Medvedchuk under house arrest and closed three other channels close to him last year.
Murayev alluded to a possible tectonic shift in Ukrainian politics in an interview on his channel in early January, saying: “For some reason I think we will have a recharge and there will be be a new government “that will solve the solution. Donbas conflict by the end of the year.
“There will be a lot of changes, and it’s inevitable,” he said. “Of course there will be revolutions and it will be difficult [ . . .] but after them there will be a bright future. ”
Oleksandr Danylyuk, former head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, said the move against Medvedchuk could have paved the way for his rival Murayev to take over as Russia’s favorite proxy.
“Russia has always been looking for agents of influence in Ukraine,” Danylyuk said. “Murayev would be an obvious choice – he fits well into the pro-Russian niche, previously occupied by Medvedchuk, but also has the potential to expand further because he is considered young and promising.”
Murayev rejected allegations in a Facebook post on Sunday that his party was sympathetic to Moscow. “The time of pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine has passed for good,” he wrote.
The British accusations could endanger Murayev for a similar punishment to that handed down to Medvedchuk.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky’s chief of staff, did not say whether Ukraine would take action against Murayev, but said “it is useful for Ukrainian society, which clearly needs to know who is who.” He promised “All legal instruments that can be used to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and the interests of Ukrainian society will be used by the Ukrainian authorities in cooperation with our partners.”
The alleged plan to install Murayev was the second western warning of an impending Russian coup in Ukraine within a week.
The US had earlier said Russian intelligence had similar plans in collaboration with another group of Ukrainian politicians near Medvedchuk – only one of whom was also named by the UK.
“Many of the people named as members of this future government are not even on proverbs with each other,” Novinsky said. “This is a random group of names.”
The differences between the US and UK accounts suggested that the Kremlin had a variety of options to achieve its goals in Ukraine, said Mark Galeotti, a professor at the University College London, who studies Russia’s security services.
“We can anticipate that there will be a whole range of different, often speculative businesses going on. “And we must not assume that when we see one, it is the Kremlin’s plan,” Galeotti said.
“The Kremlin is creating these dynamic and often chaotic situations, which will yield a whole range of different options. And they will choose and they will change.”
The US and the UK are pursuing a two-pronged strategy to try to expose Russia’s plans in public while insisting on a diplomatically negotiated solution that could ease tensions.
Blinken said the US would continue talks with Moscow after the meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov las week. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has invited his British counterpart Ben Wallace to talks in Moscow, while the Foreign Ministry has said it is considering a request from Foreign Minister Liz Truss to meet with Lavrov. .
The coup allegations could make future talks with Russia less likely, Galeotti said. “Western unity is definitely under pressure, and [the line] “Being pressured by the US and the UK does not help,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that will make those conversations more difficult.”