Ukraine says it caught hitmen on Russian mission to kill top officials

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine arrested two people working for Russian intelligence services who planned to kill Ukraine's defence minister and the head of its military intelligence agency, Ukraine's domestic security service, the SBU, said on Monday.

The Security Service of Ukraine foiled the plot by the Russian GRU military intelligence agency to use a sabotage group to carry out three murders including that of a prominent Ukrainian activist, the agency said in a statement.

The assertions could not be independently verified by Reuters.

There was no immediate reaction to the Ukraine statement from Moscow or Russian state-run media.

The suspects, one a resident of the eastern Luhansk region held by Russia-backed separatists and the other a resident of Ukraine's capital Kyiv, were promised up to $150,000 by Russian handlers for the murder of each of their targets, the SBU said.

The man from Luhansk region entered Ukraine from Belarus and was detained in the city of Kovel in northwestern Ukraine along with the Kyiv resident, the statement said.

Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb. 24 and security for top officials is extremely tight. Kyiv's government district is cordoned off with checkpoints manned by armed men. Sandbags are piled up in the windows and entrances of government buildings.

The SBU has been in the spotlight in recent weeks after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy forced out its head and the state prosecutor general last month, citing dozens of cases of collaboration with Russia by officials in their agencies.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Grant McCool)

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