KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A former Russian lawmaker who became a vociferous critic of Moscow following his recent move to Ukraine was shot and killed in Kiev Thursday, prompting another war of words between the two countries.
Denis Voronenkov, who testified to Ukrainian investigators and criticized Russian policies after his move to Kiev last fall, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman near the entrance of an upscale hotel in the Ukrainian capital.
During the attack, Voronenkov’s bodyguard, who fired back, was wounded. Both were hospitalized but Ukrainian officials said the gunman, who they claimed was a Ukrainian citizen, later died from wounds in his chest and head.
Footage following the exchange of gunfire showed the three men lying on the sidewalk. Voronenkov’s bodyguard, a Ukrainian security services officer, was seen rolling on the ground and then being helped to an ambulance by paramedics.
The killing prompted an angry exchange between the two countries whose relations have soured badly in recent years following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Voronenkov’s killing was an “act of state terrorism” that “clearly shows the handwriting of Russian special services shown repeatedly in various European capitals in the past.”
In a statement released by his spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, Poroshenko described the victim as a key witness who gave testimony about “Russian aggression” to the Ukrainian authorities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed the claim as “absurd” in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went further, saying the “killer regime” in Kiev “will do its best to make sure that no one will ever know the truth about what happened.”
Several hours after Voronenkov was killed, a team of investigators and police were seen working at the front door of the Premier Palace hotel, which is frequented by Kiev’s rich and powerful. The patch of the pavement by the door where he died was wet from water utility workers had used to wash away bloodstains.
Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, said Voronenkov was killed shortly before a meeting with another fugitive Russian lawmaker, Ilya Ponomaryov. Both men were scheduled to give testimony later in the day at Ukraine’s Military Prosecutor’s Office. The purpose of the testimony was not immediately clear.
Poroshenko said it wasn’t accidental that Voronenkov’s killing came on the same day as a fire that erupted at a Ukrainian military arsenal in the Kharkiv region, which Ukrainian officials say was caused by sabotage.
Voronenkov, 45, a former member of the communist faction in the lower house of Russian parliament who had obediently toed the Kremlin line, moved to Ukraine with his wife, singer and fellow lawmaker Maria Maksakova.
Voronenkov, who had reportedly told journalists he feared for his life and was said to be under the protection of the Ukrainian security services, claimed he had to leave Russia because of persecution by Russian security agencies. He had been granted Ukrainian citizenship after renouncing his Russian status.
He has testified to Ukrainian investigators as part of their probe into the activities of the nation’s former Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by popular protests in February 2014.
After his move to Ukraine, Russian investigators filed fraud charges against Voronenkov in connection with his business activities. A Moscow court earlier this month sanctioned his arrest in absentia.
Prosecutor Lutsenko said investigators were looking into Voronenkov’s role in exposing a contraband ring in Russia which cost several senior security officers their jobs, and his testimony on Yanukovych, as possible motives for his killing.
Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst in Kiev, said Voronenkov’s testimony was important to Ukraine because of his level of access in Russia. “He was a member of the parliamentary committee on national security,” said Fesenko, and he had access to “state secrets.”
Russia’s Peskov said Putin had been informed about the killing and voiced hope the Ukrainian authorities would solve the crime. He added that Voronenkov’s widow was welcome to return to Russia.
Vladimir Isachenkov and Howard Amos in Moscow contributed to this report.