Opposition Murders and Infighting Among Oligarchs Plague Ukraine

Opposition Murders and Infighting Among Oligarchs Plague Ukraine
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko meets with fired Dnipropetrovsk Gov. Ihor Kolomoysky, Kiev, Ukraine, March 25, 2015 (AP photo by Mikhail Palinchak).

On Wednesday, Ukrainian politician Oleh Kalashnikov was found dead with gunshot wounds in Kiev. The next day, the journalist and former politician Oles Buzyna was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home in the capital. The two murders were just the latest in a string of deaths of leading Ukrainian opposition figures in recent months. Some of these may have been suicides, while others were clearly murders, but all of the dead were supporters of Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian client who was driven from power during the Maidan protests last year.

Buzyna was an outspoken critic of Ukraine’s post-Maidan, Western-leaning government. The head of that government, President Petro Poroshenko, ordered an investigation and condemned the murders Thursday, describing them as a “provocation”—the same term his nemesis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, used to describe the still-unsolved killing of liberal opposition figure Boris Nemtsov in Moscow in February. Both presidents have attempted to argue that the killings of their respective critics were being used to discredit their governments. Putin, for his part, also noted that Buzyna’s death was “not the first political killing in Ukraine,” and Russian state media is raising the specter of “political purges.” While much remains unknown, the incidents point to a deep internal crisis in Ukraine, even as the country’s war-ravaged east remains unsettled.

The shaky cease-fire between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has given both Kiev and Moscow a chance to regroup, and so far the latter appears to be doing a much better job of it. In his annual call-in show this week, Putin spoke optimistically about Russia’s rebound from the economic crisis it has faced since December: Western sanctions have had the side effect of strengthening Russia’s domestic industries; oil prices have begun rising again; and the ruble appears to be recovering.

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