Ukraine’s prosecutor general has claimed the murder of former Russian MP Denis Voronenkov in Kiev was ordered by a mobster working for the Russian secret services.
Mr Voronenkov fled to Ukraine in 2016 and was gunned down in the capital in broad daylight this March. He had given testimony about former president Viktor Yanukovych, who is being tried in absentia for treason, as well as the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine, prosecutor general Yury Lutsenko told journalists on Monday.
While Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov implies Ukraine is “undemocratic” for voicing suspicions about Russia – which not only seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March 2014 but has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine – Kyiv has valid grounds to implicate Russia in the murder of a Russian MP who fled to Ukraine fearing for his life, and who told reporters of threats made against him.
Voronenkov was a key witness in Ukraine’s treason case against deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. In January 2017, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced that Voronenkov had given testimony about two letters written by Yanukovych in February 2014, one of which was registered with the UN Security Council by Russia on behalf of Yanukovych by the late Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, in which Yanukovych requested Russian troops to put down the Maidan demonstrations.
The 28 EU foreign ministers have formally agreed to extend a set of punitive measures imposed against Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict. The sanctions have been prolonged for another six months.
EU sanctions against Russia would be extended until January 31 next year, the European Union announced Monday, under efforts to force Moscow to abide by the Minsk ceasefire agreement in the Ukraine conflict.
The 28-nation bloc initially imposed travel bans and asset freezes against Russian and Ukrainian figures for their part in the Ukraine crisis. But after pro-Russian rebels allegedly shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July last year, Brussels stiffened its punitive measures.
Since then Russian banks have been cut off from financing on Western markets, and the country’s crucial energy industry has been hit by an export ban on crucial technology.
Russia has retaliated by imposing an embargo on imports of fruit and vegetables from the EU. On Monday, Moscow again condemned the Western measures, saying they were unfounded.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “reciprocity is the basis for our approach.” According to Russian news agency RIA, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev had ordered preparations for possible retaliatory measures following the EU decision.
In March, EU leaders agreed in principle to roll the sanctions over by linking them directly to the ceasefire brokered by France and Germany that runs to December this year.
The agreement has largely held since then, but Kyiv and the rebels regularly accuse each other breaching the pact. Earlier this month fighting flared up again, in a conflict which has claimed more than 6,400 lives so far.
Already on Friday, the European Council prolonged until June 2016 sanctions imposed to punish Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
The Council, which groups the bloc’s political leaders, said they continued to “condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and remains committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy.”
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 following the ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev, saying the peninsula had voted overwhelming in favor of returning to its Russian homeland.
The Crimea sanctions include bans on cruise ships using ports there and restrictions on exports of telecommunications and transport equipment, in addition to visa bans and asset freezes against figures said to have helped the Russian annexation.
More than 15 months after President Viktor Yanukovych fled power, prosecutors are just now getting around to taking action in criminal investigations against his former allies.
Prosecutors have asked courts to try, in absentia, former Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov and ex-Health Minister Raisa Bohatyryova, as well as against her suspected accomplice Oleksandr Stashchenko, Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin said in an interview with Golos Ukrainy, the Verkhovna Rada’s newspaper, published on June 16.
If the courts give their permission, the first-ever corruption cases against top allies of Yanukovych will be submitted to court.
Apart from these cases, several Yanukovych allies are on trial for a violent crackdown on EuroMaidan Revolution demonstrators in 2013-2014.
The report comes as Shokin is accused of dragging his feet on high-profile corruption cases and failing to prevent the flight from Ukraine earlier this month of lawmaker Serhiy Klyuyev, also a Yanukovych associate.
It is hard to predict the time between asking a court to initiate a trial in absentia and sending a case to the court, a high-ranking prosecutor not authorized to speak to the press said by phone, adding that it could range from a week to two months.
“A big step will be made when an indictment is sent to court,” Daryna Kalenyuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, told the Kyiv Post.
However, courts may or may not authorize the trials in absentia, and everything depends on how professional prosecutors’ documents are, she said.
Shokin said on June 15 at a meeting with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, that prosecutors had initiated trials in absentia against four top Yanukovych officials. It was not clear whether he was referring to Bohatyroyva and Arbuzov. He said then that three more trials in absentia would be launched soon.
Andriy Demartino, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, was not available by phone.
Bohatyryova and Arbuzov are wanted by Interpol.
Bohatyryova and Stashchenko are accused of embezzling Hr 6.5 million during purchases of medical equipment, while Arbuzov is suspected of embezzling Hr 118 million at the National Bank of Ukraine.
Accounts worth Hr 200 million belonging to Arbuzov and his wife have been frozen, Shokin said.
In another blow to ex-Yanukovych allies, Borys Tymonkin, a top executive linked to tycoon Serhiy Kurchenko, has been arrested in Germany, Ukrainska Pravda reported on June 16, citing Ukraine’s embassy in Germany.
Tymonkin is a deputy chairman of the board of directors of Kurchenko’s VETEK energy group.
Germany’s Interior Ministry declined to comment, while the country’s federal police was not available by phone.
Tymonkin is wanted in Ukraine on charges of creating a criminal gang. He is accused of organizing a money laundering and embezzlement scheme for Kurchenko, Ukrainian lawyer and businessman Anatolii Bashlovka wrote on Facebook on June 16.
Serhiy Klyuyev, who is wanted on embezzlement and fraud charges and fled Ukraine earlier in June, was luckier than Tymonkin.
Prosecutors, the State Security Service and their supporters have cited legal technicalities such as the need for authorization from the Verkhovna Rada and a court to track Klyuyev as justification for their failure to prevent his flight.
Kalenyuk dismissed this as a poor excuse, saying that nothing would have prevented law enforcement agencies from requesting court authorization to track Klyuyev’s aides and bodyguards.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has also been lambasted for failing to request Klyuyev’s arrest from the Verkhovna Rada and to include some strong charges against him in the request to strip him of immunity.
As the political situation in Ukraine destabilizes, the suspicious killings of prominent opposition supporters continue to transpire.
A prominent Ukrainian journalist, known for his critical views of Poroshenko’s government was shot dead in Kiev on Thursday, in the latest series of suspicious deaths of opposition supporters.
Oles Buzina, 45, a supporter of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, was shot in the street. Buzina’s body was found on the ground nearing his apartment building close to the city center.
The head of Kiev’s police department Alexander Tereschuk said that a TT gun was allegedly used in the crime.
According to the neighbors, the journalist was probably shot while jogging. He was found wearing a sports outfit. The 45- year-old was shot by two men in masks who disappeared from the crime scene in a Ford Focus car with either Latvian or Belarusian number plate.
Buzina was a columnist and editor of the daily newspaper Segodnya financed by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and a leading sponsor of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. He was an opposition journalist, writer and TV host, well-known for his criticism of Poroshenko’s goverment.
Earlier in Kiev, the murderers of Donetsk journalist Sergei Sukhobok were arrested on Thursday. The journalist was killed on the 13th April. He was one of the founders of the online media “Obkom” and “ProUA,” also known for his opposition to the current Ukrainian leadership.
Sukhobok was also the author of several hundred articles on socio-political, social, legal and economic issues. His works were published in many publications, particularly in the “Ukrainian Truth”. For a few months in 2014, he worked in Donetsk.
Following this wave of brutal killings, Russia’s MFA spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that this is, unfortunately, only the beginning of political purges in Ukraine.
“It is scary because none of the leaders in the EU will take notice that, day after day politicians are being killed in Ukraine. Let’s try and find at least 20 tweets of foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, the UK, Canada, USA, and Australia, representatives of the OSCE, EU and NATO expressing concern over the killing of Ukrainian politician and condemning the situation in Ukraine.”
Just the evening before, Oleh Kalashnikov, a former Ukrainian MP and a vocal critic of the country’s ruling government was murdered on Wednesday in Kiev. The 52-year-old was shot dead at his residence in Kiev on Wednesday evening.
“West should pay attention to the political killings in Ukraine instead of the rhetoric of sanctions against Russia,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the Head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, said he blamed Kiev authorities for the murder of Oleh Kalashnikov.
“Terrible and bitter news came yesterday. Kiev regime has committed yet another shameful crime. Killed a prominent opposition politician Oleh Kalashnikov,” Azarov wrote on his Facebook page, noting that the victim was” a true patriot of Ukraine “honest and a decent man.”
The former Ukrainian Prime Minister appealed to the leaders of the Western countries, “because of your support in Ukraine there are political murders, terror taking place against political opponents, and all the people.
What else should these Nazis do, for you to finally understand and be aware of your responsibility for what is happening now in Ukraine?” said Azarov.
Earlier three former lawmakers close to the ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych were found dead in Ukraine in February and March.
Former Ukraine president’s son Viktor reportedly drowned when his vehicle plunged through the ice.
The younger son of deposed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych died at the Siberian lake, according to Russian and Ukrainian media reports. Viktor junior, 33, had been living in exile in Russia. However, the Russian Emergencies Ministry claimed that Yanukovych junior’s name was not listed those involved in a tragedy when a vehicle fell through the ice.
‘Sources said he was taking part in sport events when a Volkswagen minibus which had five other people crashed through the ice,’ according to Rain TV.
‘Victor Yankovich junior drowned, five other passengers managed to survive.’
Separately information about a tragedy on Baikal was confirmed by Russian Ministry of Emergencies in Irkutsk region. The report did not name Yanukovych.
‘There is definitely no ‘Yanukovich’ surname among people that were wounded/killed in this accident,’ said a ministry source. ‘All names and surnames are known, but we have no right to disclose them.’
It is likely that the Yanukovych family is using another family name in Russia.
The ministry stated that on the evening of 20 March a vehicle with five passengers and one driver crashed through the ice in a northern part of Lake Baikal.
‘The bus drove on the ice against the warning from information signs because passengers wanted to make photographs. In the area of Cape Khoboi the bus fell into a crack. Lake Baikal is about 20 metres deep in that area’, said the Ministry of Emergencies press service.
‘Around 23.40 Irkutsk time five people who managed to escape the sinking Volkswagen were found by rescuers and delivered to Sakhyurta village on a Khivus-10 hovercraft.’
Rescurers then found the body of a man in the ice hole. A number of figures close to Yanukovych have been found dead in recent weeks.
Yanukovych Junior was said to be a passionate driver and admirer of expensive cars.
A notorious car collection found at the president’s mansion near Kiev was said to have been his.
Russia is threatening to call in its $3 billion loan to Ukraine early in a move that could push the war-torn country into default.
Last week Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov announced that Ukraine had breached the terms on the loan that was agreed between Moscow and then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country following mass protests in the capital Kiev last year.
Under the terms of the deal, Yanukovych had agreed to cap Ukraine’s national debt at 60% of GDP. However, the ongoing civil war in the east of the country and a stand-off between its two major trading blocs in Russia and the EU its debt ballooned to around 72% of GDP in 2014 and could reach over 80% this year.
Moscow is now threatening to force Kiev to repay the loan early in a move that one analyst says would make some form of debt restructuring or default a “foregone conclusion”, according to Bloomberg.
The timing couldn’t be worse. Ukraine is set to hand over $19 billion over the next three years ($7.5 billion in 2015, $4.7 billion in 2016, and $6.6 billion in 2017) in debt payments that its ailing economy can ill afford.
Ukraine debt repayment schedule.
Indeed its economic crisis has become so deep that at the end of last year the International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified a $15 billion shortfall in government funding that will need to be plugged “within weeks,” according to the Financial Times. That figure comes on top of the $17 billion programme that has already been arranged by the IMF.
The initial deal was deemed sufficient to ensure that the immediate funding needs of Ukraine would be met and, once the country had stabilized government debt would be left on a sustainable footing.
These forecasts now look wildly optimistic. The government in Kiev has effectively lost control of regions accounting for some 16% of Ukraine GDP to rebels, while the costs of fighting continue to mount.
And the country is running out of money.
The US has agreed to up to $2 billion in additional loan guarantees to Ukraine — conditional on it meeting the conditions of the IMF programme — but whether it will be enough to prevent a major debt restructuring (whereby creditor countries agree to extend their loans over a longer time period or waive some of the interest owed on the debt) or a default remains to be seen.
The sword of Damocles currently being held over the government’s head by Moscow will not be helping to encourage other countries to help.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says a decision on whether Moscow will recall the loan early will be taken “soon”. That will be scant comfort to those trying to prevent the crisis in Ukraine from getting even worse.
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