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Assassination attempts on Zelenskyy, Budanov, and others: Kremlin bets and miscalculations of RF

Assassination attempts on Zelenskyy, Budanov, and others: Kremlin bets and miscalculations of RF Volodymyr Zelenskyy (photo: website of the President's Office)

On May 7th, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) reported that it had prevented an assassination attempt on the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as on the heads of law enforcement agencies – the Chairman of the SSU, Vasyl Maliuk, and the head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov.

This is not the first time the adversary has plotted assassination attempts against heads of special services and the highest political leadership. Details on other attempts and the ultimate goal of the Kremlin can be found in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

During the preparation of the material, information from open sources was used, as well as an exclusive commentary from political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

Not the first assassination attempt

At the beginning of 2023, the Independent reported that there were over 12 attempts on Volodymyr Zelenskyy's life. At least two of them were prevented thanks to US intelligence, personally brought to Kyiv before the full-scale Russian invasion by CIA Director William Burns.

Zelenskyy himself stated in November 2023 that he had survived five assassination attempts. In March 2024, the head of the investigative group Bellingcat, Christo Grozev, revealed that even before the war, the Kremlin sent elite sabotage units to Ukraine, tasked with seizing the government quarter and assassinating the country's top leadership during the invasion.

The saboteurs entered Ukraine from Belarus, and some of them managed to reach Kyiv. According to Grozev, these were the same individuals responsible for explosions in Czechia and Bulgaria, the poisoning of Bulgarian businessman Emilian Gebrev, and the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Evidently, this referred to Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (whose real names are Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexandr Mishkin -ed.).

Замахи на Зеленського, Буданова і не лише. На що ставить Кремль і в чому прорахунок РФ

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Photo: Office of the President's website)

Their plans were thwarted, so their attitudes changed – they stopped believing in the execution of their plans and increasingly criticized their leadership for poorly planned operations. Part of the sabotage group was eliminated, and the rest retreated to the rear.

The head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence (MDI), Kyrylo Budanov, stated that there were assassination attempts planned against Zelenskyy. According to him, Russian special services "seriously and meticulously planned and conducted preparatory measures." However, it is evident that they failed to achieve their goals due to the effective work of Ukrainian special services.

Budanov himself has repeatedly stated that the Russians are planning attempts on his life as well. He announced the latest attempt, in which Russia involved people from Ukraine, on April 22, stating that the Kremlin will not succeed.

"It's to the advantage of the Russians, that's the truth. They plan to involve people here too. This is normal, operational work for them," Kyrylo Budanov continued.

In total, there are known to be about 10 attempts to eliminate the head of the Ukrainian MDI, as stated by the representative of the MDI of the Ministry of Defense, Andrii Yusov. According to him, one of the attempts occurred when the Russian army targeted the MDI office with a missile.

"In total, more than ten. Since 2014... Despite these numerous assassination attempts on the MDI, not for a single hour, not for a single minute did they cease their activities. Everyone continued to work, even at the department's permanent location. This also applies to the commander and the entire team," Yusov said.

Prior to these events, in December 2022, the SSU announced that they had prevented an attempt to assassinate Budanov and the then-Minister of Defense, Oleksii Reznikov. According to the head of the Security Service, Vasyl Maliuk, the Russian forces are constantly working to implement their plans.

Замахи на Зеленського, Буданова і не лише. На що ставить Кремль і в чому прорахунок РФ

Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine (photo: Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

"They're not just targeting me, but many high-ranking officials in our country. Recently, there was an attempted assassination plot against my sworn brother Kyrylo Budanov and Defense Minister Reznikov," Malyuk revealed.

According to him, Russian forces sent an executor to Ukraine, and prior to this, they had tasked an existing hostile agency in the country with eliminating a military officer. However, he didn't specify who it was.

"At first, they were paying $100,000 to kickstart everything, but we apprehended them in the process. The executor came through a third country. There are more than 10 such stories," Malyuk noted.

In early August 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) reported that they had arrested the hitmen who were planning to assassinate Budanov and Reznikov. The group of individuals preparing the attack was formed by personnel from the Russian military intelligence. A resident of the temporarily occupied Luhansk region was included in the group. At Moscow's behest, he was seeking a hitman for contract killings. The SSU apprehended the group in Kovel.

In November 2023, the Main Directorate of Intelligence (MDI) reported that Kyrylo Budanov's wife Mariana had been poisoned with heavy metals.

Large-scale plot

On May 7th, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) announced that they had thwarted a large-scale plot by Russian forces not only against the president but also against the leadership of the security agencies. This time, the Kremlin decided to involve employees of the State Guard Department (SGD) who were leaking secret information about the movements of Ukrainian government officials and security personnel to Russian special services. According to sources speaking with RBC-Ukraine, the operation involved the participation of the chief of one of the departments of the State Guard Department, Andrii Huk.

The Russians planned to eliminate Budanov before Easter. According to the Kremlin's plan, a recruited agent was supposed to monitor Budanov's movements, and relay the coordinates of his house, and then the Russians would strike with a missile at that location. In the published conversation between the curator of the "moles" from the FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia), Dmitry Perlin, and the agent, the former discusses that a triple strike - with a missile, a drone, and another missile - was to be carried out around Budanov's house.

The progress of the special operation to track and detain FSB agents was personally monitored by Vasyl Malyuk. According to him, the criminals were initially supposed to take the president hostage and then kill him. This act was supposed to serve as a "gift" for the inauguration of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Bet on Ukraine's collapse

By organizing an attempt on the state leadership, Russians hope to win the war in this way. They operate under the mistaken assumption that the key figure for Ukrainians is the president, whoever he may be, rather than the state itself, notes Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

"Undoubtedly, the bet was made that we would crumble. They operate from a very banal idea, they measure others by themselves - that the key figure is the leader, the top person. For them, the state, and national identity means nothing, they operate under the assumption that there is no Ukraine as such. They didn't think that people would fight for Ukraine, that Ukrainians are a nation. They thought - kill the president and that's it, the state will crumble," the expert noted.

If the Russians had succeeded in their plan, according to the law, the spokesperson of the Verkhovna Rada would have been temporarily appointed as the head of state, a position currently held by Ruslan Stefanchuk. However, according to the expert, he does not have the authority of Zelenskyy, so processes of destabilization would have begun in the country.

"I don't think it would lead to fatal consequences; after all, there is military leadership that would continue their work. But in a political sense, there would be a problem replacing the president and finding someone with the same authority as Zelenskyy would not be possible right away. It would take time. And during that time, the Russians and Russian troops could take advantage," Fesenko noted.

Most likely, a temporary government would have been formed in the country, consisting of key political figures. There would also be a problem with elections, which would be impossible to conduct under the conditions of martial law.

"At most, what could be possible is the creation of a collective leadership of the country, which would take on the management of the country's defense and so on. After all, the country in a situation of war and the situation at the front is not easy," the expert added.

Recently, Ukrainian and Polish intelligence services arrested a Russian agent who was assisting the enemy in preparing for a possible assassination attempt on the supreme commander-in-chief. The Polish agent's task was to gather information about the security of the Rzeszów-Jasionka airport and to pass on the data to the terrorist state.

Following the arrest, the Pole was charged with "readiness to act in favor of a foreign intelligence service."

Also, last year, a Russian agent, who was preparing to shell the Mykolaiv region during Zelensky's visit, was arrested.