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Ukraine’s president alleges coup attempt involving country’s richest man

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KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is claiming there’s a danger of a Russia-backed coup against him next week involving one of Ukraine’s top oligarchs — Rinat Akhmetov.

Zelenskiy laid out the charges at a rapidly scheduled press conference Friday, saying he had recordings of people from Akhmetov’s circle, in Ukraine and Russia, discussing a coup with $1 billion price tag.

“It’s not only intelligence that we have, it’s also audio intercepts, where representatives of Ukraine, so to speak, discuss with representatives of Russia Rinat Akhmetov’s participation in the coup in Ukraine,” the president said.

Zelenskiy mentioned no other names and said that Akhmetov was “being drawn into a war against the Ukrainian state.”

Akhmetov called the allegations “an absolute lie.”

“I am outraged by the spread of this lie, no matter what the president’s motives are,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to defend a free Ukraine, a free economy, democracy and freedom of speech.”

One person close to Zelenskiy said the U.S. had provided Ukraine with intelligence in recent weeks indicating there would be “an internal destabilization effort,” with the possibility that one or more Ukrainian oligarchs could be involved.

“From a Ukrainian point of view, it would be very prudent for all internal political games to stop,” the adviser said. “At least until we understand the nature of the Russian threat.”

Zelenskiy’s claim comes in the context of high tensions with Russia. The U.S. and NATO warn Moscow may be planning a full-fledged invasion as it builds up troops on Ukraine’s war-torn eastern border and in Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.