A recent assassination plot against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was foiled and the Chechen servicemen sent from Russia were “destroyed,” a Ukrainian security leader said Tuesday.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said during a broadcast marathon airing on Ukrainian TV channels that officials were recently tipped off about how a unit of Kadyrovites, elite Chechen Special Forces, were on their way to kill Zelensky. After Ukrainian officials were told by Russia’s Federal Security Service, the Chechen Special Forces were killed on Saturday on the outskirts of Kyiv, Danilov said.
“We are well aware of the special operation that was to take place directly by the Kadyrovites to eliminate our president. And I can say that we have received information from the FSB, who today do not want to take part in this bloody war,” Danilov said. “And thanks to this, the ‘Kadyrov’ elite group was destroyed, which came here to eliminate our president.”
While Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov confirmed on his Telegram channel Monday that two servicemen died and six others were injured, neither the Chechens nor the Kremlin have publicly responded to Ukraine’s claims that Kadyrovites were sent to kill Zelensky and were eliminated.
The response to the alleged assassination plot comes as Russian forces continue their deadly assault on key Ukrainian cities, prompting some locals officials to warn Wednesday that their cities were near the breaking point. Kyiv endured more overnight attacks, while Russian forces faced stiff resistance from Ukrainian military and civilian defenders throughout the country.
Nearly 680,000 Ukrainians had fled the country as of Tuesday, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in what might eventually be “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.”
In the United States, President Joe Biden put the invasion at the center of his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, hailing a unified international backlash that has made Russia “more isolated from the world now than it has ever been.” Zelensky and Biden spoke hours before the address about sanctions against Russia as well as U.S. defense assistance to Ukraine during the invasion. Biden called out Russian President Vladimir Putin for having “badly miscalculated” how Ukraine and the world would respond to the invasion.
“He thought he could roll into Ukraine — and the world would roll over. Instead, he met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined,” Biden said. “He met the Ukrainian people.”
The Ukrainian president has posted videos from Kyiv, where he’s leading the country’s military response, and has been joined by government officials, military members and civilian defenders in protecting the capital. Zelensky has said that he has become the Kremlin’s “target No. 1,” with his family as “target No. 2.”
“They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he said in an address last week.
Zelensky, who told CNN and Reuters on Tuesday that he hasn’t seen his family in recent days, noted that Ukraine is “iconic” and deserves to be defended against Russia and Putin.
“Ukraine is the heart of Europe, and now I think Europe sees Ukraine is something special for this world,” he said from a bunker. “That’s why [the] world can’t lose this something special.”
According to the Ukrainian newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, Putin instructed Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, to carry out the plot last month.
“The task of the Chechens was defined as the cleansing of Kyiv, the physical liquidation and preventive work with Ukrainian leaders,” the newspaper wrote.
Danilov said he was thankful for members of Russia’s Federal Security Service who tipped Ukrainian officials about the assassination plot. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed over the weekend that the Ukrainian military had defeated a special unit of the Chechen National Guard. Among those killed was Gen. Magomed Tushaev, commander of the 141st motorized regiment of the Chechen National Guard, reported Ukrayinska Pravda.
Danilov clarified on Ukrainian TV that the Kadyrovites were divided into two groups, and the one that was “destroyed” was tracked down in Hostomel, near the airport.
“Another group is now, so to speak, under fire,” he said.
The Washington Post’s David L. Stern contributed to this report.