The former Ukrainian lawmaker believed to be the favored candidate to lead a Kremlin-installed government is Yevhen Murayev, according to Britain’s Foreign Office. Murayev, 45, is from Kharkiv, a city of more than 1.2 million people that borders Russia. He was an ally of Viktor Yanukovuch, the former Ukrainian president who was overthrown by pro-democracy revolutionaries during the Euromaidan uprising in February 2014 and fled to Russia. And he’s the owner of a pro-Russian media company that was banned by the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky last year for allegedly working to undermine Kyiv.
Murayev did not respond to a request for comment, but on Facebook, he posted a photo of himself photoshopped to look like James Bond, telling followers to watch for “details tomorrow.”
The UK Foreign Office said Russian intelligence services currently involved in the planning of a new attack on Ukraine are in close contact with several former Ukrainian officials who served in the Yanukovych government. They include: Serhiy Arbuzov, former first deputy prime minister and acting prime minister; Andriy Kluyev, former first deputy prime minister and Yanukovich’s chief of staff; Vladimir Sivkovich, former deputy head of the National Security and Defense Council; and Mykola Azarov, former prime minister.
In December, Ukrainian president Zelensky said that Russia was plotting a coup against him. It is unclear whether that alleged plan is connected to the current one the British government says it uncovered.
The British assessment follows high-stakes diplomatic negotiations between the US, NATO, and Russia this month that have failed to de-escalate tensions. It also follows an ominous warning from President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
“My guess is he will move in, he has to do something,” Biden said about Russian President Vladimir Putin. A full-scale invasion of Ukraine would be “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II,” Biden added, with the risk of it spreading beyond the Ukrainian borders where it “could get out of hand.”
The Biden Administration said last week that it is concerned Russia is “preparing for an invasion into Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives.”
Washington and its allies in Europe have threatened Moscow with severe economic sanctions if Russian troops and armor spill into Ukraine.
“Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy,” Truss, UK’s foreign secretary, said. “As the UK and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.”