Voro­nenkov’s jour­ney from Rus­sian MP to Krem­lin critic

Kyiv Post - - National - GRYT­SENKO@KYIVPOST.COM, ZHUK@KYIVPOST.COM BY OK­SANA GRYT­SENKO AND ALYONA ZHUK

Denys Voro­nenkov led the typ­i­cal life­style of Rus­sia’s pro-Krem­lin elite un­til Oc­to­ber, when he ran afoul of Rus­sia’s Fed­eral In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee and fled to Ukraine along with his wife, seek­ing refuge from per­se­cu­tion.

He was a law­maker for Rus­sia’s pro-Krem­lin Com­mu­nist Party, had five apart­ments in Moscow and a fleet of five lux­ury cars. His wife, the opera singer Maria Mak­sakova, was a law­maker for United Rus­sia, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s party.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Ukraine and re­ceiv­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship, Voro­nenkov claimed he was “try­ing to sur­vive” Putin and started crit­i­ciz­ing the Rus­sian Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, known as the FSB, and the Krem­lin.

His bi­og­ra­phy shows he in­deed had high-pro­file con­nec­tions.

“Why do you think the FSB is such a pow­er­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion, which no­body can es­cape from?” he asked in an in­ter­view with Gor­don.UA. “People who work there also make mis­takes. If you know the sys­tem from the inside, you can eas­ily do what I did,” he said -- mean­ing es­cape.

For­mer mil­i­tary

Voro­nenkov was born in Nizhni Nov­gorod (then Gorky), a city in Euro­pean Rus­sia, into a Soviet mil­i­tary fam­ily. In his child­hood his fam­ily moved be­tween many cities in Rus­sia and Ukraine. He also claimed to be half-Ukrainian, and said he had spent a lot of time in child­hood in the south­ern Ukrainian cities of Kher­son, Mar­i­upol, Myko­laiv and Yev­pa­toriya.

He fol­lowed his fa­ther’s mil­i­tary ca­reer, study­ing in mil­i­tary uni­ver­si­ties in St. Peters­burg (then Len­ingrad) and Moscow, and start­ing his ca­reer as a mil­i­tary prose­cu­tor in the mid-1990s.

Po­lit­i­cal ca­reer

Af­ter work­ing in law en­force­ment, Voro­nenkov switched to pol­i­tics.

He was elected to Rus­sia’s State Duma on the Com­mu­nist Party ticket in 2011. He fol­lowed his party’s agenda, which cor­re­sponded to the Krem­lin line.

Voro­nenkov was one of the 443 Duma law­mak­ers who voted in March 2014 in sup­port of Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea penin­sula. Five months later, he posted sev­eral pictures from Crimea on his Twit­ter. “I was struck by its beauty. I com­pletely sup­port its ac­ces­sion to Crimea!” he wrote on Aug. 17, 2014.

But af­ter Voro­nenkov came to Ukraine, he de­nied this sup­port and even de­nied the tweet about Crimea, claim­ing his Twit­ter ac­count had been hacked.

Leav­ing Rus­sia

In March 2015, Voro­nenkov mar­ried fel­low law­maker Mak­sakova. Rus­sian par­lia­ment speaker Sergey Naryshkin sang at their wed­ding.

But in early April, Rus­sia’s Fed­eral In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee asked the coun­try’s prose­cu­tor gen­eral to start the process of strip­ping Voro­nenkov of his par­lia­men­tary im­mu­nity in a crim­i­nal case in which Voro­nenkov was ac­cused of seiz­ing a building in the cen­ter of Moscow.

Voro­nenkov claimed the case was fab­ri­cated and he had to flee Rus­sia.

In Fe­bru­ary, Voro­nenkov said he re­ceived Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship thanks to his Ukrainian roots. Mak­sakova kept her Rus­sian and Ger­man na­tion­al­ity but gained a res­i­dence per­mit in Ukraine.

Voro­nenkov claimed he was go­ing to serve Ukraine as his new moth­er­land, and said he was help­ing the Ukrainian in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the trea­son case against ousted for­mer Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych.

Crit­i­cism

Rus­sian op­po­si­tion politi­cian Alexei Navalny called Voro­nenkov “cor­rupt and crooked” and ex­posed Voro­nenkov’s lux­ury life­style in Rus­sia.

“Voro­nenkov ar­gued with some­one, he was kicked out of the Duma, and rushed with his wife to Kyiv. Then right on the plane, they switched from the Ge­orgy rib­bon (the sym­bol of Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists) to blue-and-yel­low (the colors of Ukraine’s na­tional flag),” Navalny wrote on his blog in late Jan­uary.

Voro­nenkov replied to Navalny’s com­ments that he earned his for­tune from busi­ness be­fore go­ing into pol­i­tics.

He com­pared mod­ern Rus­sia with Nazi Ger­many and said he would be help­ful to Ukrainian in­ves­ti­ga­tors, since knew the in­ner work­ings of the Rus­sian state. He also claimed he had gone pub­lic, hop­ing it would help him to save his life.

“You want to ask whether I have guar­an­tees of my safety? No, no­body has them,” he said in what was to be his fi­nal in­ter­view, with news web­site Gor­don.ua.

Denys Voro­nenkov, who sought po­lit­i­cal refuge in Ukraine, was as­sas­si­nated on March 23. (Cour­tesy)

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