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Putin foe killed by gunman in Ukraine

President Poroshenko calls attack ‘act of state terrorism by Russia’

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Maria Maksakova is assisted from the place where her husband Denis Voronenkov was killed, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March 23, 2017. Former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov was shot and killed in Kiev Thursday in what the Ukrainian president described as an &quot;act of state terrorism&quot; by Russia, an accusation the Kremlin quickly rejected.
Maria Maksakova is assisted from the place where her husband Denis Voronenkov was killed, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, March 23, 2017. Former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov was shot and killed in Kiev Thursday in what the Ukrainian president described as an "act of state terrorism" by Russia, an accusation the Kremlin quickly rejected. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko) Photo Gallery

KIEV — A former Russian member of parliament who defected to Ukraine and began sharply criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin was gunned down Thursday in downtown Kiev in an apparent contract killing.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the murder of Denis Voronenkov, a former member of Russia’s Communist Party who fled to Kiev in October 2016, an “act of state terrorism by Russia.”

A suspected assailant was arrested after Voronenkov was shot twice in the head, dying on the spot. The suspect’s identity or other details were not immediately made public. In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman denied Russian involvement in the killing.

But Russia’s critics were likely to draw parallels between the slaying and the deaths of other Putin foes. It also raises further alarm in Washington, where Russia has come under scrutiny for allegedly trying to influence the presidential election to aid Donald Trump.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday evening — less than 72 hours before his death — Voronenkov complained about anonymous threats against him and his wife, Maria Maksakova, a former member of the United Russia party founded by Putin, with whom he fled to Kiev last year.

After receiving Ukrainian citizenship in December, he testified in the case against Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian leader who was toppled in 2014 revolution after dozens of protestors were killed in shooting in downtown Kiev.

Before fleeing Russia, Voronenkov was the target of a fraud investigation. He was formally charged in February after a high-profile interview where he compared the patriotic fervor in Russia to Nazi Germany.

Voronenkov said the charges against him over a corporate raiding case had been fabricated by his political enemies.

On Tuesday, he called the Russian state under Putin “totalitarian,” said he had always opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea despite having voted for it in 2014 in parliament. He said he planned to live in Kiev for the foreseeable future, where he had friends in the pro-Western bureaucracy from his time in the Soviet army.

He could likely return to Russia only after Putin’s death, he said.

In the three years since Ukraine’s revolution, Kiev has become something of a meeting point for Russian opponents of the Kremlin. The city has taken on the role of a modern Casablanca just 500 miles southwest of Moscow, where members of Russia’s liberal, leftist and nationalist opposition — as well as those seeking to escape a tightly controlled political landscape in Moscow — have congregated in relative safety.

Voronenkov’s death, if tied to a Kremlin order, indicates that Kiev has become a more dangerous place for them.

Voronenkov and his wife were concerned about their security, specifically citing their conflict with Russia. Speaking over black tea in the dim lobby bar of Kiev’s Premier Palace Hotel, he said Tuesday that fears of harassment forced him to keep secret the location of where they rented a house outside of Kiev with their children.

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