A journalist supportive of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was gunned down in Kiev on Thursday, the third death this week of a prominent critic of Ukraine's Western-backed government.
Russian media and other loyalists of Yanukovich, who was ousted in February 2014 after a three-month rebellion, were quick to label the deaths "political murders." Ukrainian officials suggested the slayings were motivated by Kremlin supporters seeking to get rid of witnesses to Moscow meddling in Ukrainian domestic affairs.
Oles Buzyna was shot to death from a passing car by two masked men around 1:20 p.m. in central Kiev, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Buzyna, 45, had been managing editor of the newspaper Segodnya from January through March, when he resigned to protest what he said was censorship and interference with personnel policies. The newspaper is part of the SKM business consortium owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, whose empire was based in Donetsk before the conflict between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian government forces erupted a year ago.
It wasn't clear from Ukrainian or Russian news accounts from whom the interference at the newspaper came. But the implication from Moscow news reports was that Buzyna was driven out by supporters of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected in May to succeed the ousted Kremlin ally, Yanukovich.
Russian President Vladimir Putin observed during a four-hour call-in program with Russian citizens that Buzyna's death was "not the first political killing in Ukraine."
On Wednesday, former lawmaker Oleg Kalashnikov from Yanukovich's Party of Regions was found dead of a gunshot wound on the landing of his apartment building in Kiev, Russia's Sputnik news agency noted.
Another journalist from Ukraine's strife-torn Donetsk region, Sergei Sukhobok, was found dead Monday in Kiev, reportedly killed in a fight with neighbors in the Ukrainian capital. A suspect in that killing was arrested Thursday, said Sputnik, which called Sukhobok another victim "known for his opposition to the current Ukrainian leadership."
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted by state-run media in Moscow as saying she feared the spate of deaths this week was "only the beginning of political purges in Ukraine."
Russian officials and media have portrayed the government change that Ukrainians have undergone over the last 18 months as a Western-inspired campaign to oust a Kremlin ally and bring to power a pliable leader who will do the bidding of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The deaths in Kiev this week are "scary because none of the leaders in the EU will take notice that, day after day, politicians are being killed in Ukraine," said Zakharova.
Mykola Azarov, prime minister in the Yanukovich government, said on his Facebook page that "the Kiev regime has committed yet another shameful crime." He blamed the deaths this week on the Poroshenko government's supporters in the West.
Anton Herashchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker and advisor to the Interior Ministry, told Ukrainian media that the car from which the shots were fired at Buzyna had Latvian or Belarusian license plates, and hinted that the editor was the victim of a Russian plot to silence those with knowledge of Kremlin involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
"Looks like the extermination of the witnesses in the Anti-Maidan case is continuing," Herashchenko said on Facebook, referring to the rebellion by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians that ousted Yanukovich. Kiev politicians accuse Russia of bankrolling retaliatory actions, as well as the separatist uprisings in the east.
Poroshenko also blamed the deaths on those trying to destabilize Ukraine and "discredit the political choice of the Ukrainian people."
The Ukrainian president called for a "prompt and transparent" investigation into the killings, the Kyiv Post reported.