Ex-Russian Lawmaker Who Turned on Putin Shot Dead in Kiev

  • Denis Voronenkov and his wife fled Moscow in 2016 for Ukraine
  • Victim was witness against ex-Ukraine leader backed by Kremlin

A former Russian lawmaker who fled Moscow for Ukraine and likened life under President Vladimir Putin to Nazi Germany was shot dead in Kiev.

Denis Voronenkov, 45, was killed Thursday at 11:40 a.m. near the Premier Palace hotel in the center of Ukraine’s capital, local police said. His bodyguard shot the assailant, who died later in the hospital. Ukraine blamed the killing on Russia, linking it to testimony by Voronenkov against Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-backed Ukrainian leader who was ousted three years ago in street protests.

The assassination carries the “obvious signature of Russian special services,”  President Petro Poroshenko, said via Facebook. “Voronenkov was a key witness of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Already at their worst since the Soviet Union collapsed, the murder further shatters ties between the two countries. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea in 2014 and the government in Kiev blames Putin for instigating the three-year insurgency on the nations’ shared border. Yanukovych, who now lives in Russia, stands accused of treason for inviting Russian troops into Ukraine, allegations he denies.

Leaving Russia

Voronenkov left for Ukraine in 2016 after his failure to win re-election annulled his parliamentary immunity and exposed him to criminal charges over a building dispute. He’s on a federal wanted list for fraud. Voronenkov had campaigned for the Communist Party against foreign ownership of local media, and backed Putin’s drive against Russian companies’ offshore structures, though his name later featured in the Panama Papers.

He was joined in Kiev by his wife, an opera singer and ex-legislator for Putin’s party. They received Ukrainian citizenship last month. In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday evening, Voronenkov revealed anonymous threats against him and his wife.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed as absurd suggestions that Russia was involved in the killing, the Interfax news service reported. He said the murder showed Ukraine was unable to ensure Voronenkov’s safety. A United Russia legislator called the incident a provocation ordered by Ukraine.

‘Mortal Danger’

Ex-Russian opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev said on Facebook that Voronenkov had been on his way to meet him when he was shot. “Voronenkov isn’t a crook -- he’s an investigator who presented mortal danger to Russia’s security services,” he said.

Speaking with Ponomarev at a joint news conference in Kiev, Ukrainian General Prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko said Voronenkov had been under state protection and was scheduled to provide further testimony in the Yanukovych case later Thursday. The killer was carrying Ukrainian identification documents whose authenticity is being checked, he said.

The murder is the latest in a string of fatal attacks in Kiev. Most recently, a Belarusian journalist who made his career in Russia was assassinated in a car bomb last summer. The perpetrators remain at large. Russia has also been accused of killings on foreign soil, most notably Alexander Litvinenko’s death by poisoning in London in 2006.

Poroshenko also accused Russia of involvement in a fire Thursday at a Ukrainian arms depot that required the evacuation of almost 20,000 residents.

— With assistance by Volodymyr Verbyany

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