Denis Voronenkov, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot to death outside of a Kiev hotel. Voronenkov, a former Communist member of the Russian parliament, had fled to the Ukraine last year fearing for his safety. He was cooperating with the Ukrainian government in a treason case against former president Viktor Yanukovych.
Voronenkov is the latest Putin critic to meet their end under mysterious or violent circumstances.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Thursday’s killing a “Russian state terrorist act” on Twitter, and described Voronenkov as “one of the key witnesses of the Russian aggression against Ukraine” — referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and a subsequent war with pro-Russian rebels.
Poroshenko’s accusation drew a sharp rebuke from Moscow. Any claims that Russia is connected to the killing are “absurd,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian state-run TASS news agency.
Voronenkov had denounced Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and said he was cooperating with Ukrainian prosecutors’ treason case against former President Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian politician who fled Ukraine after deadly 2014 protests.
Details about the shooting weren’t immediately released. CNN video shows investigators standing over the bloodied body of Voronenkov, lying face-up on a Kiev sidewalk near the Premier Palace hotel.
The suspect was wounded and has been taken to a hospital, Kiev police Chief Andriy Krischenko said. Details about the suspect’s identity and who injured him weren’t available.
No motive for the attack was immediately known.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko said Voronenkov had given “extremely important testimony” to Ukraine’s military prosecutors.
Voronenkov’s killing was “a demonstrative execution of a witness,” Lutsenko said.
Not every Putin critic’s death can be blamed on President Putin – even if the deaths occurred under “mysterious” circumstances. And Mr. Lutsenko may be jumping the gun in this instance. The attacker may have been a mugger or simply mentally deranged. No doubt, details will emerge in the next few days that will enlighten us.
But there is also no doubt that several prominent enemies of President Putin have been murdered – if not on his direct orders, then by elements in the Russian government who are looking to protect him and intimidate other critics. The list is a long one and includes the 2009 killing of Sergei Magnitsky who was beaten to death in jail. Magnitsky was investigating corruption in the Putin administration at the time of his death.
Tuesday, a lawyer for Magnitsky’s family, Nikolai Gorokhov, “fell” from the window of his fourth floor Moscow apartment. He is alive but in intensive care.
Gorokhov was supposed to represent Magnitsky’s family at a hearing on Wednesday connected to a $230 million tax fraud case that Magnitsky was killed for exposing in 2009.
Typical of Putin critics, Magnitsky was posthumously convicted of tax fraud in 2012.
Too many of these deaths are assassination style, giving rise to reasonable questions about who in the Russian government is behind them. The undeniable fact is, if you are a critic of Vladimir Putin, your life expectancy will be in question.