The British government on Saturday accused Russia of organizing a plot to install a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine, as the Kremlin masses troops and materiel near the Ukrainian border in what Western officials fear is an impending military assault on the neighboring nation.
The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave relatively little information about the intelligence unveiled Saturday other than to say that the Russian government was considering trying to make a Russia-leaning former member of Ukraine’s parliament, Yevhen Murayev, the country’s new leader.
“The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement, calling on Russia to de-escalate and pursue a path of diplomacy.
“As the U.K. and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs,” Truss said.
British authorities also said they had information showing how Russia’s intelligence services maintain links with numerous former Ukrainian politicians. Some of those former Ukrainian politicians are in contact with Russian intelligence officers planning the attack on Ukraine, the British government said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry denied the allegations in a Twitter statement, saying the British announcement was evidence that NATO countries, “led by the Anglo-Saxons,” are escalating tensions around Ukraine.
“We call on the British Foreign Office to stop its provocative activities and focus on studying the history of the Tatar-Mongol yoke,” the Russian Foreign Ministry added.
In comments to the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, Murayev, the owner of a pro-Russian television channel in Ukraine, said he was amused by the allegations.
“I have a hard time digesting stupidity and nonsense: Maybe someone wants to shut down yet another independent TV channel,” he said in a series of text messages, according to the Telegraph.
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“As someone who has been under Russian sanctions for four years, barred from Russia as a national security threat and whose father got his assets frozen in Russia, I find it hard to comment on the Foreign Office’s statement,” he added.
Britain also named four former associates of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as examples of former politicians in contact with Russian intelligence but did not say whether those four were involved directly in the plot to install Murayev.
Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia in 2014 as a pro-Western uprising on Kyiv’s central square, known as the Maidan, ushered in a Europe-friendly government. Russia reacted by annexing Crimea from Ukraine and fueling a separatist war in the country’s east.
The four former associates that the British government named as contacts of Russian intelligence are former Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov, former first deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov, former Yanukovych chief of staff Andriy Klyuyev and former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security Council Vladimir Sivkovich.
The four men couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The British government made the accusations in a statement released at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, after it was already the middle of the night farther east.
Rather than attempting an overt overthrow of the pro-Western government in Kyiv, analysts suspect that if Putin attempted a coup, he would instead seek to encourage the collapse of the current government and covertly promote a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who would have more local credibility. The British government’s announcement was an attempt to thwart that activity.
“The Russians have a plan and we clearly think it’s worth people knowing about it,” said a Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. “Calling it out takes away the element of surprise and also reduces the chances of Russia succeeding if they actually attempt it.”
“When the Russians attempt this and say ‘this is an independent Ukrainian political movement,’ we can say ‘no, that’s not true, this is the work of your intelligence apparatus which we’ve been warning about,’ ” the official said.
U.S. officials said they have no reason to doubt the British intelligence.
“This kind of plotting is deeply concerning,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement. “The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically-elected partners in Ukraine.”
The British government’s announcement came two days after the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a group of current and former Ukrainian officials, accusing some of them of helping Russia lay the groundwork to install a Moscow-friendly government in Ukraine.
“Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” the Treasury Department said.
Among the people Treasury sanctioned on Thursday was Sivkovich, one of the former Ukrainian officials the British government accused of having contacts with Russian intelligence.
In its sanctions announcement, Treasury accused Sivkovich of working with “Russian intelligence actors” to build support for Ukraine to officially cede Crimea to Russia in exchange for a drawdown in Donbas, where Russia has fueled a separatist war against Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian officials were surprised by the idea that a Russian plot would seek to install Murayev, a relatively marginal figure in Ukrainian politics who was sanctioned by Russia in 2018, as the country’s new leader.
On his Facebook page, Murayev posted an image of himself edited into a James Bond “Skyfall” logo, appearing to poke fun at the idea that he was the subject of an international espionage gambit.
Murayev is from Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, a Russian-speaking part of the country north of Donbas. He is a former member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and other Russia-leaning political factions that emerged after the party’s implosion in 2014.
Murayev ran for Ukraine’s president in 2019 but dropped out of the race.
Kenya’s Presidential Race: Early Results Put Odinga Slightly Ahead
Official results provided by the Kenyan election commission have shown that veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga led Kenya’s presidential race.
The results, which were displayed on a large screen at a national tallying centre in the capital, Nairobi, also pushed Deputy President William Ruto into second place.
The results, with just over 26 % of votes counted, Odinga had 54% and Ruto had 45%.
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Ruto and Odinga are in a tight race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has reached his two-term limit. Kenyatta fell out with Ruto after the last election and has endorsed Odinga.
Official vote tallying has been proceeding slowly, fueling public anxiety.
Election commission chairman Wafula Chebukati blamed party agents, who are allowed to scrutinise results forms before they are added to the final tally.
The winning candidate must receive 50% of the national vote plus one, and at least 25% of the vote from 24 of 47 counties.
The commission has until Tuesday to declare a winner.
Massive explosions rock Russian base in Crimea in major blow to Putin
Huge explosions have rocked an air base in occupied Crimea, a symbolic blow to Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
Ukrainian authorities have stopped short of formally confirming its missiles hit the target but an advisor to Volodymyr Zelensky strongly hinted this was the case.
It would mark the first major strike on a Russian asset in the peninsula since the February invasion began.
At more than 200km away from any territory held by Ukraine, it will also be seen as a vindication of the West’s strategy to provide Kyiv with long range missiles.
Kremlin troops have occupied the area since 2014 and have used it as a staging ground for its assault on the south of Ukraine.
Tourists at nearby resorts were reportedly evacuated as huge pillars of black smoke rose over the skyline.
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Russian authorities said at least one person was killed when munitions blew up at Saki air base.
The defence ministry insisted the installation had not been shelled, a similar approach to denials issued in the wake of the sinking of the Moskva ship by a Ukrainian missile.
TASS, a Russian news agency, reported a military source claiming it was caused ‘only [by the] violation of fire safety standards.
The Kremlin has consistently claimed a fire which spread to munitions sunk the Moskva, the Black Sea fleet flagship which went down in April and gave Ukrainians a major morale boost.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to the Ukrainian president, wrote on Twitter after the Crimea blast: ‘Demilitarization of the Russian Federation — an integral part of global security ensuring.
‘The future of the Crimea is to be a pearl of the Black Sea, a national park with unique nature and a world resort. Not a military base for terrorists. It is just the beginning.’
Crimea’s head Sergei Aksyonov said ambulances and medical helicopters were sent to the Saki air base and the area was sealed off within a radius of three miles.
It remains to be seen how the Kremlin will response after it previously threatened to strike ‘decision-making centres’ in Kyiv if Crimea was targeted.
Ukrainian officials earlier confirmed three people were killed and 23 more wounded in various shelling incidents, including near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Kenya Elections 2022: Raila Odinga and William Ruto in Tight Race for President
Kenyans are choosing their next president after an intense campaign dominated by debates about living costs, unemployment and corruption.
Outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, having served the constitutionally limited two terms, is backing one-time foe Raila Odinga, 77, to succeed him.
His decision followed a falling out with Deputy President William Ruto, 55, who had expected to be endorsed.
More than 22 million Kenyans have registered to vote.
There are several other elections happening at the same time and a mix-up of ballot papers in some areas for some of those votes has again raised questions about the organisation of the general election.
Polls are open for 11 hours from 06:00 local time (03:00 GMT). Anyone still in the queue at closing time will be allowed to vote.
The results of the last presidential election in 2017 were annulled after the Supreme Court ruled that the electoral commission had not followed the law when it came to the electronic transmission of the vote tallies from the polling stations.
Judges ruled that “illegalities and irregularities” had taken place.
A re-run was won by Mr Kenyatta, but boycotted by Mr Odinga – the main opposition candidate at the time.
The chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, who was also in charge of the 2017 vote, has frequently tried to reassure Kenyans that his team will be up to the task this time.
But Monday’s logistical problems have increased the pressure on him.
Baba v Hustler
This election looks like it will be a tight race between frontrunners Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto.
Two other candidates – David Mwaure and George Wajackoya – are also in the race.
Despite the campaign being dominated by issues, ethnic loyalty may also play a part in determining how people vote.
For the first time in the multi-party era none of the main candidates are from the country’s largest ethnic group – Kikuyu.
But knowing that those votes are vital, both have chosen Kikuyu running mates.
To win the presidential race in the first round, a candidate needs:
- more than half of all the votes cast across the country
- at least 25% of the votes cast in a minimum of 24 counties.
On election day, voters will have their fingerprint scanned to check their identity but a printed register can also be used if the machines fail.
Each voter will then be given colour-coded ballot papers for each of the elections, which they will mark in a private booth and drop in the relevant ballot boxes.
Counting will start at the polling stations shortly after voting ends. Officials will then take a photo of the final tally and send the image to both the constituency and national tallying centres.
To ensure transparency the media, political parties and civil society groups have been urged to run their own tallies using final results declared at the more than 40,000 polling stations.
But only the electoral commission can declare the winner of the presidential election after verifying the physical and digital forms sent to the national tallying centre.
The main presidential candidates have vowed to respect the result of the elections.
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