Ukrainian police have detained a group of suspects for allegedly planning mass riots in multiple cities including the capital Kyiv, with the aim of destabilising the country as fears of a full-blown Russian invasion linger.
Denys Monastyrsky, Ukraine’s interior minister, said during a televised briefing on Monday that the organisers planned to involve up to 5,000 paid-for protesters to stoke violent clashes with police. The arrests were made on Sunday. Monastyrsky did not reveal how many individuals had been arrested.
“The action was organised to destabilise the situation in Ukraine,” he said. “Such rallies were planned to be held, in particular, in Sumy, Chernihiv, Poltava and Cherkasy regions.”
Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, on Friday downplayed the risk of a full-scale Russian invasion, while urging the US to tone down its warnings of such a scenario, saying that “panic” threatened to undermine the country’s economy.
But Ukrainian officials have also warned that any deeper Russian invasion — which the US and other countries have warned could be imminent, with Moscow amassing more than 100,000 troops near the nation’s border — could be preceded by attempts to destabilise the country internally.
Monastyrsky did not explicitly suggest that the riots were orchestrated by Russia but he did express concern that two of the regions where the activities were planned were “on our northern borders with the Russian Federation”.
“As is well known, one of the scenarios of aggression against Ukraine is paid-for violent massive protests. This is used and can be used as an element of [Russia’s] hybrid war,” he added.
Monastyrsky also drew a parallel between the foiled riots and pro-Russian protests staged in 2014 that took place in the run-up to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its stoking of a proxy war in eastern regions that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
The arrests follow a Friday announcement by Ukraine’s SBU state security service on the arrest of a “Russian military intelligence agent” who was caught “red handed” plotting terrorist attacks in Odesa, the country’s strategic Black Sea port city.
In a separate statement on Monday, the SBU said it had over the past year “neutralised dozens of criminal groups, whose activities were co-ordinated with Russia” and “threaten Ukraine’s national security”.
The US warned this month that Moscow could use covert operations, including sabotage, in eastern Ukraine to create a “pretext for invasion”.