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Putin critic Denis Voronenkov shot dead in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — A former Russian lawmaker and Kremlin critic who fled to Ukraine last year was shot dead Thursday in Ukraine’s capital, and a suspect is custody, officials said.

Denis Voronenkov, who’d been a Communist member of Russia’s lower legislative house before he left and attained Ukrainian citizenship in late 2016, was fatally shot in Kiev, Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko said.

Voronenkov, who denounced Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, becomes the latest in a string of Russian critics of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government who were killed or injured in mysterious circumstances.

A suspect in Thursday’s shooting is 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 immediately available.

No motive for the attack was immediately known.

Pictures distributed by Agence France-Presse show police standing over the bloodied body of Voronenkov, lying face-up on a Kiev sidewalk.

Called annexation of Crimea ‘a mistake’

Voronenkov and his wife, former Russian lawmaker Maria Maksakova, sharply criticized Putin after they left Russia for Ukraine in October.

In a February interview with Radio Free Europe, Voronenkov called Russia’s seizure of Crimea from the Ukraine a “mistake” and “illegal,” and said that the couple left the country because of pressure from Russian security services.

Voronenkov also alleged that although he was recorded as having voted for the annexation in Russia’s Duma, the vote was cast against his will. He was not at parliament that day, and another legislator used Voronenkov’s card to vote for him, he told Radio Free Europe.

The day after that interview, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Voronenkov’s claim.

“I was present at almost every voting and it wasn’t like they (Voronenkov and Maksakova) said,” Peskov said, according to Russia’s state-run Sputnik news service.

Voronenkov said he thought his criticisms led Russian authorities to charge him in absentia with fraud in February, Radio Free Europe reported. He called the charges “fake” and “political,” the report said.

Sputnik news service cast Voronenkov’s departure from the country as an attempt to flee from investigation, citing the Russian Investigative Committee.

Other deaths, injuries of Kremlin critics

Peskov pre-emptively hit out at anyone who would attempt to link Russia to Voronenkov’s death.

“We believe that any allegations that are already being heard of the notorious Russian trace are absurd,” Peskov said, according to Sputnik.

Voronenkov is one of several Kremlin critics to die or be injured in mysterious circumstances.

• In 2015, Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister in the late 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin, was shot in the back while walking in central Moscow.

Five suspects have been on trial in Moscow since October, with one accused of accepting cash to kill him. All have pleaded not guilty.

Putin blamed extremists and protesters who he said were trying to stir internal strife in Russia. But people close to Nemtsov have expressed concern that he was killed because of his opposition to the government.

• Last month, Nemtsov’s friend, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was in a coma after a suspected poisoning. Kara-Muzra is part of Open Russia, an organization of anti-Putin activists who are calling for open elections, a free press and civil rights reforms.

It was the second time in two years Kara-Murza fell into a coma after a suspected poisoning.

• In 2013, Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky was found dead inside his house in Britain with a noose around his neck. His falling-out with the Russian government had left him self-exiled in the UK.

A coroner’s officer said it couldn’t say whether Berezovsky committed suicide. That year, Putin said he could not rule out that foreign secret services had a role in Berezovsky’s death, but he added that there was no evidence of this.

• In July 2009, human rights activist Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped outside her home in the Russian republic of Chechnya and found shot to death in a neighboring republic the same day. She had spent years investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The head of the group Estemirova worked for, Memorial, accused the Kremlin-backed Chechen leadership of ordering her killing. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov denied involvement in her death, calling it a “monstrous crime” that was carried out to discredit his government.

• In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist critical of Russia’s war in Chechnya, was gunned down at the entrance to her Moscow apartment.

The Kremlin has staunchly denied accusations that it or its agents are targeting political opponents or had anything to do with the deaths.

• Also in 2006, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died a slow death from poisoning in Britain. In a deathbed statement, he blamed Putin for ordering his poisoning by means of the rare radioactive substance polonium-210, saying it was slipped into his tea at a London hotel.

The Kremlin has always strongly denied the accusation, as have the two chief suspects, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun. But a British inquiry into his death concluded that Putin and the FSB, the KGB’s successor, likely ordered the poisoning.