“Britain called me a collaborator. Why?’ Ukrainian politician Yevhen Murayev strikes | Ukraine

Sitting in a blue armchair, vaping with one hand and phoning with the other, Yevhen Murayev, a Ukrainian politician and supporter of the Nash television network, has spent the last week desperately trying to save his career.

In recent weeks, its posh television studios, located in an industrial building not far from the center of Kiev, have been raided by groups of angry nationalists, and on Friday Ukraine’s Security Council imposed sanctions on the channel, effectively taking it off the air with immediate effect. . He cannot appeal the decision.

The reason, according to Murayev, is Britain. An unusual statement released by the Foreign Ministry three weeks ago referred to unspecified intelligence purporting to show that Russia was plotting a coup in Ukraine to install a puppet government in Kyiv.

“Former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev is considered a potential candidate,” read the statement, released in time to hit Sunday’s headlines.

“It is clear with the release of this statement that Britain has decided it will be part of an information operation,” said Mark Galeotti, a political analyst specializing in Russia.

British and American officials say that by issuing statements like this, they are letting Russia know they are aware of Moscow’s plans and making it harder for the Russians to implement them. Murayev’s announcement, however, was met with confusion and laughter in Kyiv, given his low ratings in most parts of the country.

“It didn’t sound good at all. This is not a government that could be imposed on Kiev,” a diplomatic source said, adding that it would only make sense if Russia intended to divide the country and set up a regional government in ballast.

Murayev said he was vacationing with his family on a tropical island when he started receiving calls from British journalists who wanted his comment on allegations that he was the figurehead of a coup. Russian. “At first I thought it was some kind of prank,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry statement named Murayev, along with four other politicians who fled Ukraine after the 2014 Maidan revolution, including former prime minister Mykola Azarov, who has lived in Moscow ever since. Murayev said he helped Azarov escape Ukraine in the heat of the revolution, leading him across the border to Russia, but since then he has had no meaningful contact with him or the other named men.

The Foreign Ministry statement also named former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Photograph: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

“Since then, we’ve spoken to each other on the phone occasionally, usually to wish each other happy birthdays,” Murayev said. He claimed he had not visited Russia since 2015 and had been under Russian sanctions since 2018 after falling out with Viktor Medvedchuk, another pro-Kremlin politician, who is a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

“The British have publicly called me a collaborator, and now the Ukrainians are targeting me and there’s no public evidence,” he said.

As with so much recent intelligence that has come to light, it is certainly plausible that someone in Moscow has appealed to Murayev, one of the few Ukrainian politicians sympathetic to the Russian position. But it’s unclear whether the statement was based on solid information or on informal contingency plans.

For Murayev, the biggest irritation was that he was named as someone who was “considered”, but not directly accused of anything. “How can I defend myself against the allegation when no one has provided evidence against me? I can’t even sue the British, because they worded it very carefully. They didn’t directly accuse me of being involved, just that some people may have thought of using me,” he said.

The crescendo of intelligence briefings declaring that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent has emanated mainly from Washington in recent weeks, but Britain has emerged as the main voice of support, backing up US claims of the current danger.

The Foreign Office strongly backed US messages that the threat of a full-scale invasion is real and could come at any time, though other European capitals and the Ukrainian government remained more skeptical.

This has been combined with a number of high profile visits to Ukraine and Russia this month, starting with Boris Johnson’s visit to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and followed last week by two ministerial visits to Moscow. The first of these – Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’ trip on Thursday – did not go well. A politically connected source in Kyiv compared the spectacle of Truss taking on the cunning and experienced Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to “Champions League meets Sunday league”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Liz Truss in Moscow last week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Liz Truss in Moscow last week.
Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry/Reuters

A moody meeting ended with an acrimonious press conference and the Russian side commented on a gaffe Truss made during the talks. Apparently, as Truss noted the worrying buildup of the Russian military near the Ukrainian border, Lavrov asked him if Britain recognized Moscow’s sovereignty over the Rostov and Voronezh regions, where much of the reinforcement.

Truss reportedly told Lavrov that Britain would “never” do that, before the British ambassador stepped in to kindly mention to Truss that these regions were actually inside Russia. Shortly after, the news of the geographical slippage was cheerfully reported in Russian and international media. Truss appeared to confirm the reports when she said in an interview with a Russian newspaper that she thought Lavrov was talking about regions in Ukraine.

Truss returned to London with little sign that she had made any progress in either guessing Russia’s intentions or delivering a useful message to Moscow. “Honestly, I have no idea why she went to Russia other than for the photoshoot,” Galeotti said.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, a key member of Putin’s inner circle who rarely meets with Western ministers. Wallace described the talks as “frank and constructive”, and the visit lacked the adversarial Truss trip jockey.

In addition to visits to Kyiv and Moscow, Britain supplied the Ukrainian army with arms more outspoken than many European countries, and Kyiv was grateful for Britain’s forceful stance.

But the intelligence briefings were not so well received. “The majority of Ukrainians greeted the British statement with enormous skepticism,” said Kyiv-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. He suggested that a popular theory was that the information could have been leaked to the British by personal enemies of Murayev. “I think the Brits may have been played,” Fesenko said.

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