NewsZelensky's narrow escapes: Ukraine thwarts assassination bids

Zelensky's narrow escapes: Ukraine thwarts assassination bids

Russia is hunting Zelensky. From the first hours of the war, Kremlin services are lurking for his life.
Russia is hunting Zelensky. From the first hours of the war, Kremlin services are lurking for his life.
Images source: © East News | ABACA
10:02 AM EDT, May 13, 2024

Ukrainians have successfully intercepted another effort by Russian agents to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky. Since the onset of the conflict, Kremlin operatives have relentlessly targeted him.

The initial two weeks of the conflict marked the height of danger, with five assassination efforts occurring in just the first two days. Despite numerous threats to his life, President Zelensky remained unharmed. This was particularly evident on February 25, as he aimed to undermine Russian claims of his flight from Kyiv by filming videos in the city's streets. During these moments, his security detail was pushed to its limits, especially with the presence of undercover saboteur groups that Ukrainian counterintelligence was gradually neutralizing.

At that time, the "hit list" included not only Zelensky but also the Klitschko brothers, Volodymyr and Vitali, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, and key security officials—Vasyl Maliuk, head of the Security Service of Ukraine, and Kyrylo Budanov, head of intelligence.

Eventually, this list grew to encompass local leaders of occupied territories and community figures.

Elimination of leaders: A key warfare strategy

On March 19, 2022, Berislav's mayor Oleksandr Shapoval and a local activist were abducted. Days later, on March 23, Russian forces seized Oleksandr Kniga, the director of Kherson's drama theater. The following week witnessed the kidnapping of eight individuals in Hola Prystan, including its mayors and Stara Zburivka's mayor.

These tactics, aimed at removing local leaders to disrupt community cohesion, mirrors methods deployed by the Bolsheviks during the 1917-1923 wars. By replacing genuine leaders with their appointees, the Kremlin has intended to secure compliance through leadership voids—illustrating the tactic's significance in their warfare playbook.

Continued threats and future attempts

“The Russian objective, plainly, is elimination—targeting not just Ukraine's President but other pivotal figures. Even short-term disarray in Ukraine’s command structures across state, military, or intelligence domains serves the aggressor's interests,” observes Dr. Dariusz Materniak, an Eastern affairs expert. He underlines that further attempts are likely, emphasizing the propaganda value it would lend Russia, especially following their operational miscalculations.

Inside Zelensky's circle: The threat of treachery

Since the war's beginning, Ukrainian forces have periodically apprehended Russian spies plotting assassinations. Recently, two colonels of the State Security Service were discovered leaking crucial travel information to assassins.

“Ukrainian authorities are well aware of these threats,” Dr. Materniak comments, highlighting the difficulty of invading Zelensky or other key officials' inner circles due to strong anti-Russian sentiments and thorough checks by Ukrainian counterintelligence.

Assassins in the ahadows

Jakub Link-Lenczowski, editor of Military Magazine MILMAG, said, “Russian ambitions never envisioned a place for Zelensky. Eliminating or capturing him was seen as a means to weaken Ukrainian resolve.” Despite distancing themselves from assassination allegations, Russian operatives continue their covert operations.

“Removing Zelensky would undeniably plunge Ukraine into turmoil,” Dr. Materniak adds, acknowledging the existence of succession plans but stressing the significant impact of such a loss. Nonetheless, he deems the likelihood of successfully installing a Moscow-friendly leader under current conditions improbable.

Despite setbacks, Russian persistence suggests they are not yet ready to concede defeat. Their history of relentless pursuit hints at more attempts to come.

Related content