A former Russian lawmaker and well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was shot dead in broad daylight outside a hotel in Kiev on Thursday.
Denis Voronenkov had played a critical role in Ukrainian prosecutors' high treason case against Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine's former president who has been living in exile in Russia since he was removed from power three years ago. Voronenkov told Radio Free Europe in February that he had been helping prosecutors build a case against the deposed Ukrainian president. "I will talk about criminal deeds of the former president, which led to the ongoing bloodshed in Donetsk and Luhansk regions," he said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described Voronenkov's murder as an act of Russian "state terrorism." And Ukraine's General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko described it as a "cynical murder."
"This was a typical shoe execution of a witness by the Kremlin," Lutsenko told Reuters.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, pushed back against allegations that Russia was involved in Voronenkov's death. "We believe that all speculations about a Russian connection are absurd," Peskov told Russian news media. He added that perhaps Ukraine had failed to provide Voronenkov with sufficient security protection.
Voronenkov — a member of the Communist party in Russia's lower house before he fled to Ukraine in 2016 — was an unabashed critic of Putin's policies in recent years. In the same interview with Radio Free Europe in February, he called Russia's annexation of Crimea a "mistake" and likened the mood and political process in Russia to Nazi Germany.
"People are behaving in a pseudo-patriotic frenzy," he said.
The controversial lawmaker left Russia for Ukraine in 2016 after losing his parliamentary re-election bid and amid accusations of fraud, which he said were the machinations of his political opponents. In February, Russia formally charged him in absentia with fraud.
Voronenkov is hardly the first Putin or Kremlin critic to meet an untimely demise. Just this week, a Moscow-based lawyer who represents the family of a deceased Russian whistleblower incurred severe injuries after he was thrown out of a fourth-story building — one day before he was scheduled to appear in court. In February, Evgenia Kara-Murza, a Russian activist and Kremlin critic, was poisoned for the second time, and nearly died, during a trip to Moscow.