Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Operation to destabilize Ukraine. How the oligarchic opposition tried to organize a second «Irangate» for V. Zelenskyy


On November 26, 2021, during a press conference with journalists, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that he had an information about the upcoming coup d'état in Kyiv on December 1-2. He said that he could not disclose who was behind this, but added that, according to him, the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov could be involved in an attempted coup with the participation of «Russian representatives». In 2014, when the Russian Federation made its offensive, Ihor Kolomoisky, Viktor Pinchuk, sided with Ukraine, realizing that they could lose their assets and income. Back then this factor became one of the reasons why the «Russian world» did not spread to the entire Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions. Realizing that these individuals can become valuable allies for destabilizing the central authorities, it is likely that the Russian Federation may try to negotiate their loyalty.

While at the beginning of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's cadence, the so-called big business owners took a neutral position, then with the adoption of the law on oligarchs and the possible adoption of the law on media, Zelenskyy was severely criticized by the media of Rinat Akhmetov, Petro Poroshenko and Viktor Pinchuk. Akhmetov has invested heavily in his media group over the past year. Together with the closure of pro-Russian channels in early 2021, this had a significant impact on the ratings of his TV channels, significantly expanding the circle of viewers. In recent months, the editorial policy of these TV channels has undergone a radical transformation from a neutral position to an openly anti-government one, and now they are used as platforms for round-the-clock criticism of the current government.

In order to fight the Ukrainian authorities and protect the oligarchic-kleptocratic regime in Ukraine, Akhmetov used as an information weapon against Zelenskyy his main information resource of the Ukraine-24 TV channel and well-known political strategists, showmen and journalists working for him. The main fabula aimed at discrediting the president and his subsequent removal from power was the Wagnergate case. According to media reports, the Ukrainian special services intended to capture 33 mercenaries who fought against Ukraine in the Donbas. According to the original plan, the militants were to fly from Minsk to Istanbul, and the plane was to make a forced landing in Ukraine, where the fighters would be detained by Ukrainian security forces. But it did not happen. Belarus first allegedly detained the Wagner militants and then returned them to Russia. The Ukrainian authorities were accused of postponing the operation and put forward a version that the operation was postponed deliberately, with the aim of disrupting it. This version, in particular, was discussed several times on the air of Savik Shuster's TV show «Freedom of Speech». The former head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Vasil Burba was the central figure in these discussions. Vasil Burba has outlined in detail his version of the course of events on the air. Such actions of the Ukrainian intelligence officer received approval from the opposition, which is trying to use the unsuccessful operation to strike a blow against the current government.

Opponents of Volodymyr Zelenskyy intend to arrange their «Irangate» for the president, and given the seriousness of the accusations, it is a matter of a high treason. Thus, by accusing Volodymyr Zelenskyy of treason, the opposition hopes to bring the case to impeachment. At the same time, Vasyl Burba's actions were criticized by non-partisan professionals who work or have previously worked in intelligence agencies.

Currently, a separate group of experts and retired politicians who want to return to power against this dirty information background are appearing on Savik Shuster's show, as well as on other programs of Ukraine 24 TV channel. Former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has called for almost all of these politicians to unite. In a special issue of one of the shows, he addressed Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Volodymyr Groysman, Vitaliy Klychko and Dmytro Razumkov. Some of these people met on November 22 in Vilnius, on Savik Shuster's birthday. According to Ukrainian Pravda journalists, Arsen Avakov, Volodymyr Groysman, journalist Dmytro Gordon, Yevhen Komarovsky, Vitali Klitschko's brother Volodymyr, and a number of other individuals attended the event. Rinat Akhmetov himself joined them during that day. So now Rinat Akhmetov has formed a new group of politicians and influencers who are working together against Volodymyr Zelenskyy, intending to return to power, perhaps by destabilizing the country from within.

Other opposition parties, which have now become situational allies, will be able to take advantage of the destabilization of Ukraine's domestic political situation. Besides working within the country, the opposition is trying to enlist the support of international partners: government officials, experts, etc., to form a negative and toxic image of the current Ukrainian government. On December 8, the Atlantic Council think tank published an article by Kira Rudyk, head of the «Voice» party, entitled «Independent Ukraine’s free speech gains are under threat». In her article, Kira Rudyk manipulatively states that on December 1, instead of the coup d'etat described by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, citizens who «were particularly angered by what they saw as recent attacks on journalists by the authorities» gathered on the Maidan. Ms. Rudyk, however, does not say that the protest was organized by communities affiliated with opposition parties. Among the calls coming from the stage set up in the square, in particular, was the demand for the resignation of the president. The deputy also compares Volodymyr Zelenskyy to authoritarian rulers of post-Soviet countries who oppressed freedom of speech and persecuted the opposition, citing the alleged pressure on Rinat Akhmetov's and Petro Poroshenko's channels. Presumably, Volodymyr Zelenskyy's law on the media is criticized at the end of the article.

The truth is that the Ukrainian information space has been dominated by oligarchic and pro-Russian channels throughout the entire period of independence of the state. They are not regulated by law and are used to shape electoral sentiments. We have already covered this issue in detail in our article «New escalation of information war against V. Zelenskyy under the pretext of «protection of freedom of speech»».  Now that Volodymyr Zelenskyy has begun to conquer the information field in the state, political groups affiliated with oligarchs are losing power and fortune, so they are actively fighting against the President of Ukraine.

The situational coalition of oligarchs and opposition forces, trying to return to power by destabilizing the situation in the country, in fact contribute to the goals of the Russian hybrid war against Ukraine. Thus, the interests of the opposition coincide with the Kremlin’s interests which is to destroy the Ukrainian government and Ukraine as a whole. In this situation, the Russian Federation can take advantage of the weakening of the central authorities of Ukraine and resort to increasing the scale of aggression.