Man named by UK as Putin’s choice to run Ukraine puppet regime says claim ‘fake news’

Man named by UK as Putin’s choice to run Ukraine puppet regime says claim ‘fake news’
Yevhen Murayev says he will sue over London’s assertion he is colluding with the Kremlin

The man the British government named as being Vladimir Putin’s choice to lead a puppet regime in Ukraine after a Russian invasion has said he will be taking legal action over the “absurd but very damaging fantasy” which has led to threats against him and his family.

Speaking to The Independent, Yevhen Murayev asked the UK authorities to produce evidence he is colluding with the Kremlin to lead a regime of collaborators in an occupation country.

The 45-year-old former MP and media owner said that he would be willing to go to London not only to take part in any possible court proceedings against the British government he may bring, but also publicly debate the issue of his supposed culpability with British ministers and MPs.

The public identification of Mr Murayev and four others allegedly involved in the conspiracy was a highly unusual move by the Foreign Office, in a febrile and volatile scenario with rising chances of a devastating conflict.

Mr Murayev said that he had heard on Friday that he may be accused of being part of a Kremlin conspiracy in a report but had dismissed this as “fake news”. The former MP had been placed under rolling sanctions by Russia since 2018, had his assets in the country frozen, and, he felt, it would be recognised that he would be an unlikely chief favourite of Moscow.

“But 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 Kyiv? Will I get to meet Mr Putin who I have never met in my life? Or will I get arrested if I arrived in Moscow while still under sanctions?

“This is all fantasy of course, but it is dangerous and divisive when people are trying hard to prevent a war. Personally these accusations have led to hundreds of threats on the social media against my life and that of my family.”

Speaking about the alleged Russian plot, Liz Truss had said “the information being released shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking”.

Yevhen Murayev

After the publication of the allegations against him, Mr Murayev shared a photograph of himself mocked up as James Bond in his Facebook page. He told The Independent he had no idea why the British foreign secretary would make such claims.

“I have never been to the UK and haven’t had much involvement with the UK. I do not know why their foreign secretary would say these things. I don’t know much about her, I think she’s quite new, that’s all I know”, he said.

“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.”

Mr Murayev had made anti-western statements on a number of occasions. He had maintained that the annexation of Crimea by Russia was a fait accompli and should be recognised as such by the international community. He had held that American mercenaries were used to fight separatist forces in the Donbas. His TV channel, Nashi, had been highly critical of the government of of Volodymyr Zelensky.

Mr Murayev said, however, that he was “surprised” that the British government appeared not to know about the “ situation” between him and Russia and how this weakened their case.

The former MP said his problems began when he fell out with Viktor Medvechuk, a pro-Russian oligarch and MP who says that President Putin is the godfather to his daughter.

Mr Medvechuk was accused of treason and placed under house arrest by the authorities in Kyiv. Mr Putin subsequently devoted a huge amount of his opening speech at a meeting of the Russian Security Council on developments in Ukraine, accusing the Ukrainian government of President Zelensky of “purging their political environment” and suggested that Ukraine was turning “slowly but steadily, into an antipode of Russia, an anti-Russia”.

Mr Murayev told The Independent:“ I disagreed with Medvechuk. I said that Ukraine must take a line independent of both Russia and America and the West. That was in October 2018 and in October I was sanctioned by the Russian Federation, these are rolling sanctions which have gone on year after year. I am not the only one in this situation, there are 10 or 15 other politicians facing the same thing for the same reason.

“But I still think that Ukraine needs to keep away from power blocs, because they always lead to travel and we as a country get used. I don’t see why we should continue with the model of the Cold War.”

Despite the growing fear of a conflict, Mr Murayev held that there was a strong chance of a negotiated settlement as long as it addressed wider security issues for all parties and there must not be any provocation by some of the [ Ukrainian nationalist] elements in the Donbas. And there must be a serious attempt to implement the Minsk Agreement.

“The Russians have their grievances, but they can see how much international support Ukraine is getting. I cannot see how an invasion can take place. The Russians would know that even a ‘ limited incursion’ as Joe Biden puts it would lead to full sanctions.”

Mr Murayev continued: “We haven’t had a war, we hadn’t had an occupation and yet there’s all this talk of a post-invasion government, It’s like body parts are being allocated for a patient who is not dead and is not going to die. I want to make clear, I am not involved in any conspiracy and would not be part of a government imposed by any foreign occupiers, whoever they are.”