A former Russian parliamentarian who defected to Ukraine and sharply criticised Vladimir Putin has been shot dead outside a hotel in Kyiv. Denis Voronenkov was killed shortly after 11:00 am Thursday morning as he left the Premier Palace hotel on his way to meet Ilya Ponomaryov, another former Duma deputy and Putin critic also living in exile in Ukraine. Vorenenkov’s bodyguard, who was also injured in the shooting, returned fire, critically wounding the assailant, who later died in hospital.
Voronenkov was a member of parliament for the Communist Party between 2011 and 2016, before losing his seat amid corruption allegations. Last October he fled to Ukraine with his wife Maria Maksakova, a former United Russia MP and celebrated opera singer. He then became an outspoken critic of Moscow and testified against the former Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovich, who was toppled by mass demonstrations in 2014.
Voronenkov was considered to be a key witness in the upcoming trial in absentia against Yanukovich who stands accused of treason for requesting Russian military assistance to put down the Euromaidan protests. In an interview with Censor.net, a Ukrainian website, Voronenkov called Yanukovich, ‘a convicted criminal who betrayed his people, fled, and asked another state to invade his country and kill his compatriots’. He also compared Putin’s Russia to Nazi Germany and called the annexation of Crimea a ‘grave mistake’.
Since the ouster of Yanukovich and the annexation of Crimea, Kiev has been embroiled in a simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country that has soured relations between Russia and the West. On the same day that Voronenkov was murdered an unexplained explosion occurred at a munitions depot near rebel-held east Ukraine, causing the evacuation of some 20,000 people living nearby. The missiles and artillery weapons stored in the depot were used for supplying Ukrainian troops operating in the conflict zone.
In a statement on his website, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was quick to draw a link between Voronenkov’s assassination and the explosion at the munitions dump, saying it is ‘not a coincidence’ that they happened on the same day. Accusing Russia of an act of state terrorism, Poroshenko said that the killing of Voronenkov bore ‘the handwriting’ of Russian special services. Russian authorities have denied any involvement in either incident and labelled the accusations as ‘absurd.’