Pono­marev says Krem­lin pol­icy is clear: Kill traitors


Ex­iled ex-Rus­sian mem­ber of parliament Ilya Pono­marev called Denys Voro­nenkov a “pi­lot case” into whether for­mer Krem­lin sup­port­ers with in­sider knowl­edge of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s cor­rupt ways and his war on Ukraine could help Kyiv au­thor­i­ties.

If so, the “pi­lot case” ended cat­a­stroph­i­cally when an as­sas­sin fired sev­eral gun­shots into Voro­nenkov, who like Pono­marev is also an ex­iled ex-mem­ber of the Rus­sian parliament.

Voro­nenkov, who be­came a nat­u­ral­ized Ukrainian cit­i­zen and a vo­cal Krem­lin critic af­ter re­lo­cat­ing to Kyiv in Oc­to­ber, was killed in­stantly about 11:30 a.m. on March 23 out­side the Premier Palace Ho­tel in Kyiv.

“Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties missed the im­por­tance of him as a wit­ness, of pro­tect­ing him and as a sym­bol,” Pono­marev said in in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post on March 26, the day af­ter Voro­nenkov’s fu­neral in Kyiv.

Ukraine’s au­thor­i­ties “never un­der­stood who was Denys Voro­nenkov, why he was here and what was his main value. Voro­nenkov had a huge un­der­stand­ing of Putin’s regime – how the cor­rup­tion and money laun­der­ing worked, the fi­nan­cial links of top of­fi­cials,” Pono­marev said. “That was his great­est value.”

Pono­marev said that he also knows other Rus­sians who want to give in­for­ma­tion against the Krem­lin’s crimes. He doubts that many will be will­ing to take Voro­nenkov’s risks now.

‘No. 1 en­emy’

If Pono­marev is right, a long­time en­emy of Voro­nenkov is to blame for his as­sas­si­na­tion.

Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties iden­ti­fied the gun­man as a Rus­sian agent — 28-year-old Pavel Parshov — who died af­ter be­ing fa­tally shot by Voro­nenkov’s body­guard, who is re­cov­er­ing from gun­shot wounds he also suf­fered in the shootout.

Voro­nenkov fol­lowed a path with sim­i­lar­i­ties to Pono­marev, who splits his time be­tween Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and Kyiv, and ad­vises Amer­i­can in­vestors in­ter­ested in Ukraine. Both Voro­nenkov and Pono­marev switched from be­ing part of Rus­sian dic­ta­tor Vladimir Putin’s sys­tem to Krem­lin crit­ics.

Voro­nenkov was a lawmaker from the pro-Krem­lin Com­mu­nist Party from 2011 to 2016. He sup­ported pro­hi­bi­tions on for­eign own­er­ship of Rus­sian me­dia. In 2013-2014, he crit­i­cized Ukraine’s Euro-Maidan Rev­o­lu­tion and voted for Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

Voro­nenkov be­came a Putin critic and fled to Ukraine only af­ter be­com­ing a sus­pect in a fraud case, which he be­lieved to be po­lit­i­cal, and los­ing re-elec­tion to parliament in Septem­ber — and hence, los­ing his le­gal im­mu­nity from crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

Mean­while, Pono­marev was the only Rus­sian lawmaker who voted against Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in March 2014. He was banned from Rus­sia that year by court or­der af­ter be­com­ing a sus­pect in an em­bez­zle­ment case. Pono­marev says the case is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Pono­marev said he was not a close friend of Voro­nenkov, but shared cir­cum­stances as ex­iled Krem­lin crit­ics and for­mer Rus­sian law­mak­ers brought them to­gether in Ukraine.

Voro­nenkov and Pono­marev were sup­posed to meet in Premier Palace the same day that Voro­nenkov was as­sas­si­nated. Pono­marev said that Voro­nenkov was seek­ing ad­vice on how to sell his prop­er­ties in Rus­sia, in­clud­ing three apart­ments and lux­ury au­to­mo­biles, and what to do if he got placed on In­ter­pol’s “red no­tice” of in­ter­na­tion­ally wanted sus­pects.

Voro­nenkov was un­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion for fraud in Rus­sia. Pono­marev called the ac­cu­sa­tions against Voro­nenkov “ar­ti­fi­cial, based on one guy in pri­son” and part of a vendetta against him by ex-Rus­sian FSB se­cu­rity ser­vices gen­eral Oleg Feok­tis­tov. It is Feok­tis­tov who Pono­marev blames for or­der­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion, call­ing him Voro­nenkov’s “No. 1 en­emy.”

Feok­tis­tov could not be reached for com­ment.

Putin knew?

Feok­tis­tov was, how­ever, no or­di­nary FSB gen­eral. He served as deputy head of the in­ter­nal se­cu­rity depart­ment, which gave him the power to in­ves­ti­gate any­body in the for­mer KGB agency — the most pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tion in Rus­sia — and to re­port di­rectly to Putin, Pono­marev said.

Pono­marev traces the en­mity be­tween Feok­tis­tov and Voro­nenkov to the early 2000s fall­out over the “Three Whales” cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Fed­eral Drug Con­trol Ser­vice – a gi­ant smug­gling scan­dal that led to the fir­ing of 29 FSB gen­er­als. Among them, Pono­marev said, was Feok­tis­tov’s men­tor. Voro­nenkov played a role in the case as an in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the Fed­eral Drug Con­trol Ser­vice in 2004 to 2007.

Feok­tis­tov was also thought to be re­spon­si­ble for an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Voro­nenkov in 2007, ac­cord­ing to Pono­marev.

Voro­nenkov told the Gor­don.ua site in March that Feok­tis­tov “had or­dered” a crim­i­nal case against him, and their feud goes back to 2007. This Fed­eral Drug Con­trol Ser­vice, where Voro­nenkov worked, was later dis­banded and its head Alek­sandr Bul­bov was ar­rested for il­le­gal wire­tap­ping in 2007. Bul­bov blamed Feok­tis­tov for fabri­cat­ing the case against him.

Feok­tis­tov is re­port­edly close to Igor Sechin, CEO of Ros­neft and Putin’s clos­est ally.

In early March, Feok­tis­tov lost his job as head of se­cu­rity at Ros­neft and re­turned to the “mil­i­tary ser­vice,” al­though it is not clear if it means the mil­i­tary or the FSB, Rus­sia’s Ve­do­mosti news­pa­per re­ported.

Af­ter leav­ing Ros­neft, Feok­tis­tov “needed some ac­tion to prove his use­ful­ness” to the Krem­lin, Pono­marev sur­mises.

Elim­i­nat­ing the talk­a­tive traitor Voro­nenkov, a new en­emy of the state and an old en­emy of Feok­tis­tov, would be one way to do it.

Pono­marev has lit­tle doubt Feok­tis­tov or­ga­nized the as­sas­si­na­tion with help from the Rus­sian FSB se­cu­rity ser­vices — and that means, he said, Putin knew and ap­proved.

“For me, there is only one ques­tion: Did he call Vladimir Putin be­fore the trig­ger was pulled or af­ter?”

Re­peated at­tempts to lo­cate Feok­tis­tov for com­ment were un­suc­cess­ful.

‘Face of a flea’

In Jan­uary, Rus­sian Kom­m­er­sant pub­lished news that Voro­nenkov had started giv­ing tes­ti­mony in Ukraine’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of de­posed Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, who is ac­cused of many crimes, in­clud­ing ask­ing Rus­sia to send troops to in­vade Ukraine.

In re­sponse to that ar­ti­cle, Pono­marev said Voro­nenkov be­came the tar­get of a Krem­lin smear cam­paign. The break­ing point came when Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s con­fi­dant Vla­dyslav Surkov dis­missed Voro­nenkov as “some guy with the face of a flea.” The wives of Surkov and Voro­nenkov were close friends, Pono­marev said.

Voro­nenkov “was so pissed off. ‘I have the face of a flea? OK, I will show them,’” Pono­marev re­calls Pono­marev telling him.

So, from his ex­ile in Ukraine, Voro­nenkov started step­ping up his pub­lic crit­i­cism of the Krem­lin regime, giv­ing in­ter­views with jour­nal­ists right up to his death.

Ponomorev said that Voro­nenkov had an “im­por­tant meet­ing” that morn­ing, be­fore the one sched­uled with him, but he wouldn’t even tell his wife, Maria Mak­sakova Jr. Ponomorev said he doesn’t know who Voro­nenkov was sup­posed to meet with ei­ther. But the meet­ing never hap­pened. It turned out to be a ruse to en­sure that Voro­nenkov was at the cor­ner of Pushin­ska Street and Shevchenko Boule­vard, out­side the Premier Palace Ho­tel, at the ap­pointed time.

‘Al­most per­fect’ hit

Se­cu­rity camera footage from the Premier Palace Ho­tel shows the as­sas­sin Parshov rush­ing up on foot from be­hind on Shevchenko Boule­vard to catch up with Voro­nenkov, who turned around to see the man who was con­fronting.

The gun­man shot him and the body­guard and then calmly shot Voro­nenkov two more times be­fore walk­ing away on Pushkin­skaya Street.

The killer’s only mis­cal­cu­a­tion in an oth­er­wise “al­most per­fect” hit was think­ing that he had killed Voro­nenkov’s body­guard also. In­stead, the body­guard killed Parshov.

‘An­other Litvi­nenko’

Pono­marev said Putin’s logic is sim­ple: Krem­lin traitors must be killed.

Alexan­der Litvi­nenko, a for­mer Rus­sian FSB se­cu­rity ser­vice agent who ex­posed the crimes of Putin’s Rus­sia, was killed in a polo­nium poi­son­ing case in Lon­don, where he was liv­ing in ex­ile, in 2006. Many other Krem­lin in­sid­ers-turned-crit­ics have been killed or died sus­pi­ciously. In that sense, he said, Voro­nenkov is just “an­other Litvi­nenko.”

For Rus­sians to “switch sides and be suc­cess­ful… that was to­tally un­ac­cept­able for Putin’s sys­tem,” Pono­marev said. “In the Litvi­nenko case, his pre­sumed mur­der­ers are mem­bers of parliament, dec­o­rated with awards, highly rep­utable and wealthy.”

Voro­nenkov’s le­gacy

De­spite Voro­nenkov’s pro-Krem­lin past, Pono­marev says Ukraini­ans should re­spect what he tried to do in his last six months of life.

“He has done, with his death, so good for Ukraine,” Pono­marev said. “He died in this war. He paid with his blood for his new coun­try and also for Rus­sia by try­ing to re­move the regime which is dan­ger­ous, trai­tor­ous and to­tally cor­rupt.”

Kyiv Post staff writ­ers Oleg Sukhov and Ok­sana Gryt­senko con­trib­uted to this story.

Ukrainian po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors work next to the body of for­mer Rus­sian mem­ber of parliament Denys Voro­nenkov at the scene of his as­sas­si­na­tion in Kyiv on March 23. Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko called the mur­der “an act of state ter­ror­ism” by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s regime. (Pavlo Po­d­u­falov)

Denys Voro­nenkov

Ilya Pono­marev

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