MOSCOW—As he was entering a ritzy Kiev hotel, a shower of bullets descended on former Russian parliament member Denis Voronenkov and his bodyguard, who returned fire, injuring the shooter. In a matter of minutes, Voronenkov lay dead in the street, photographers snapping pictures of his splayed and bloodied body, still in its expensive blue suit. The shooter has not been identified, but the Ukrainian president has accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the killing. If that proves true, the assassination would fit a pattern, and serve as a symbol of how far the Russian government seems to be willing to go to make its message unmistakably clear.
It was a remarkable dénouement to a remarkable story. Voronenkov was first elected to the Russian parliament, the Duma, in the controversial parliamentary elections of 2011. He represented the Russian Communist Party, a loyal, Kremlin-funded and largely moribund party that is part of the so-called “loyal opposition” in the Duma. He served only one five-year term, during which he pushed a law that banned foreigners from owning more than a quarter of a Russian media company. This forced the owners of some of the last bastions of the free press in Russia—like the business daily Vedomosti, a joint project of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal—to sell their properties to local, and presumably more loyal owners. According to an excellent summary in Meduza,
Voronenkov was a defendant in at least two criminal cases. In 2014, the Investigation Committee, suspecting Voronenkov of being guilty of corporate raid, could not get the deputy deprived of parliamentary immunity despite its efforts. In the early 2000s, Voronenkov was investigated on accusations of bribery. In addition, entrepreneur Anna Atkin accused him of being involved in the murder of her business partner Andrei Burlakov.
He was also accused by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny of using ill-gotten wealth to buy extensive property and automotive holdings, which his parliamentary salary—Voronenkov had only ever worked in the Russian government—could scarcely have afforded him.