Yevhen Murayev: Vladimir Putin’s choice of ‘puppet’ to lead invaded Ukraine

Media magnate threatens legal action after being named in plot to install pro-Kremlin government in Kiev

Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Russian security council
Vladimir Putin accused of links with Ukrainian media magnate
(Image credit: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

A Ukrainian politician has been forced to deny that he is Vladimir Putin’s choice to lead a pro-Russian government in Kiev after being named by the UK Foreign Office as one of several leading figures plotting with the Kremlin.

Yevhen Murayev, a former MP who owns a television channel, told The Telegraph that allegations made by the UK government are “stupidity and nonsense”, stating in a series of text messages that he was “amused” by the suggestion that he was a Russian puppet.

“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 said.

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The Foreign Office named Murayev alongside four other serving and former Ukrainian politicians who have links with “Russian intelligence services”. In a statement, Liz Truss said the information reveals “the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine”.

‘Marginal figure’

Murayev, 45, is a former MP in the Ukrainian parliament and in 2018 founded his own party, Nashi (Ours), after splitting from the country’s most popular pro-Russian party, Za zhyttia (For Life). He was elected as the party’s candidate in the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election, but pulled out to back former vice prime minister Oleksandr Vilkul.

He is also the owner of pro-Russian TV channel NASH, which was founded by his father Volodymyr Murayev. He previously ran pro-Russian TV channel NewsOne, which was banned by a decree from current president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Analysts were “taken aback” by the Foreign Office’s allegation that the “soft-spoken” and “bespectacled” Murayev was “the Kremlin’s pick for a puppet government”, according to The Telegraph, with some suggesting that he is a “marginal figure”.

Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kiev-based political analyst, told the paper that a figure such as Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian tycoon who is a close friend to Putin, would be a more obvious candidate to lead a pro-Kremlin government in the event of an invasion.

“Medvedchuk is definitely much closer to the Kremlin, and they treat him as one of their own,” Fesenko said. But Murayev “could be one of the people to seek roles in a new government in case Russia invades. Unfortunately, there are lots of people like Murayev who could form a fifth column in Ukraine.”

Speaking to The Independent, Murayev said that he would consider taking legal action against the UK government over what he called an “absurd but very damaging fantasy”.

“I woke up in the morning to discover that I am now supposedly the man who would be leading a Ukrainian government after a Russian invasion,” he said.

“This raises lots of questions. Will I still remain sanctioned by Russia while leading their government in Kiev? Will I get to meet Mr Putin who I have never met in my life? Or will I get arrested if I arrive in Moscow while still under sanctions?”

Warning that the claims against him are “dangerous and divisive when people are trying hard to prevent a war”, he said that the Foreign Office’s claims have “led to hundreds of threats on the social media against my life and that of my family”.

“All I can think is that the British Foreign Office was given misinformation by some elements in Ukraine, and they repeated it without proper checking.

“I also think that myself and some others are getting caught up in the geopolitical confrontation going on between the US, UK, Nato and Russia. I think we are getting caught in the middle.”

‘Insight into Kremlin thinking’

Murayev was named alongside Serhiy Arbuzov, an ex-acting prime minister; Andriy Kluyev, an ex-deputy prime minister; Vladimir Sivkovich, former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council; and Mykola Azarov, ex-prime minister.

Truss said that the alleged links between the men and Russian intelligence services provides “an insight into Kremlin thinking”, warning that Moscow “must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy”.

Referring to the UK’s claims, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters: “We’ve been concerned and have been warning about exactly these kinds of tactics for weeks. This is very much part of the Russian playbook.”

The claims, “for which London provided no evidence and which Russia has dismissed”, have “struck many in Ukraine as far-fetched”, the Financial Times said.

Oleksiy Haran, head of research at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation think tank, told the paper: “If Russia really has plans to destabilise the situation in Ukraine and bring to power a pro-Russian government, then this is a poorly thought-out plan which will not be supported by Ukrainian society.

“Russia never understood Ukraine and it does not want to understand,” he said. “Russia could have such plans, but they are absolutely absurd.”

Vasyl Filipchuk, a former spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, echoed Haran’s scepticism, telling The Guardian the allegations are “ridiculous”.

“This scenario would only work with a fully fledged invasion taking over Kiev. The city would be decimated, its land burned and a million people would flee. We have 100,000 people in the capital with arms, who will fight. There may be a plan but it’s bullshit.”

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