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A new plot to assassinate Ukraine's president has come to light

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Ukraine says it has exposed a network of spies working with Russia to assassinate the Ukrainian president as well as other top officials. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has more from Kyiv.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: This is not the first time Russia has allegedly tried to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But Ukraine's domestic intelligence agency says, this time, the plot was much more sophisticated. Spokesman Artem Dekhtiarenko said in a video statement that Russia recruited spies inside the State Guard of Ukraine, which protects Zelenskyy and top officials in his government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARTEM DEKHTIARENKO: (Through interpreter) The network included two colonels from the government protection unit who leaked classified information to Russia. One of their tasks was to search for soldiers close to the president's security team who could kidnap and kill him.

KAKISSIS: Ukraine's domestic intelligence agency also posted a video of an unnamed suspect - a gray-haired man in a gray parka. His face is blurred.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

KAKISSIS: He says he was told to gauge the mood inside the president's security detail and find anyone ready to join the plot. The spokesman, Dekhtiarenko, says the Russians also planned to kill the heads of both the military and the domestic intelligence agencies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEKHTIARENKO: (Through interpreter) They planned to launch a missile strike at the coordinates of the house where the official was supposed to be. Then they were going to attack those who remained with a drone and then follow up with another missile to destroy evidence.

KAKISSIS: Ukraine released audio of an alleged exchange between a Russian security services officer and a suspect involved in the assassination plot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: (Speaking Russian).

KAKISSIS: The Russian officer says, "if you complete the task, you will have at least $50,000."

The head of Ukraine's domestic intelligence agency, Vasyl Malyuk, said in a statement posted to social media that he personally oversaw the top-secret operation to expose the plot that would have killed him and the president. He called it a terrorist attack that was supposed to be a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his inauguration on Tuesday. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "TIMID INTIMIDATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.