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Was There a Failed Coup Against Zelensky?

by John Jefferson
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Had there been an attempt on the life of President Joe Biden or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin or their counterparts in France or the UK, there would, deservedly, have been endless coverage. But the May 7 attempted assassination of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky by high ranking Ukrainian officers elicited only the necessary reporting and a shocking dearth of investigation.

That the assassins were recruited by Russia and that the assassination “was supposed to be a gift to Putin before [his] inauguration” has been asserted, without evidence, by Ukraine’s State Security Service, the SBU. What is known is that two colonels in Ukraine’s State Protection Service, the Ukrainian equivalent to the U.S. Secret Service, have been charged with treason and arrested. One of them faces the additional charge of “aiding in the preparation of a terrorist act.”

Part of their assignment was reportedly to identify “operatives among the military close to the protection of the president, who could take the head of state hostage and later kill him,” according to the SBU. Vasyl Maliuk, head of the SBU, and General Kyrylo Budanov, chief of the GUR, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, are also reported to have been targets.

The exact details of the plot are murky, and it is unclear which parts applied to Zelensky and which to Budanov. One agent was “tasked with surveilling the president’s movements and relaying this information.” Once the high level targets’ location was known there was to be a series of strikes to first kill them and then obliterate the evidence. A fatal missile strike would be followed by a drone strike to kill anyone who was still alive, and then by another missile to destroy traces of the drone. 

On May 10, Zelensky published a decree dismissing Serhii Rud, the chief of the State Protection Service. Rud has not been accused of any involvement, but he is reported to be close to Colonel Andrei Guk, who has now been identified as one of the colonels who has been arrested. 

The claim offered without evidence that Russia was involved in the assassination attempt cannot be dismissed. But it is odd that Russia would need help locating Zelensky, who very publicly travels abroad and to the front lines and even, at times, publishes selfies at the front. It may also be odd that Russia, which can hit precision targets all over Ukraine, would need to deliver drones to Ukrainian agents when they have the capacity to launch them from farther away.

The unproven Russian involvement may be real, or it may be an attempt to recast an embarrassing internal coup as a Russian plot. Either way, it does not bode well for Ukraine. 

If Russia was running the operation, then it reveals a capacity for extensive Russian infiltration of the highest levels of the Ukrainian military and security. If Russia was not running the operation, then it reveals dissatisfaction, dissent and disorder in the Ukrainian military.

Whether Russia was paying them or they were operating independently, the attempted assassination exposes internal weakness and disorder in Kiev. 

Russian forces are breaking through Ukrainian lines across the front in the north and the east, and depleted and exhausted Ukrainian forces are frequently facing defeat and occasionally retreating and refusing orders to fight. Zelensky has demonstrated no willingness to negotiate and seemingly has left himself no escape route from his promise to win back all of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, nor from his decree banning negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And now there has been the first known attempt by high ranking Ukrainian officials to assassinate the Ukrainian President. 

Whether Russia was behind the plot—as Ukraine alleges—or whether it was an independent, internal Ukrainian coup attempt, it hints that not all is well in Kiev. No wonder the Western media chose not to shine a bright spotlight on it.

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