The former Russian MP Denis Voronenkov, who was granted Ukrainian citizenship back in 2016, was shot in Kyiv on 23rd March. He was linked to several high-profile cases in Russia such as the ‘Three Whales’ corruption case. He was considered valuable to Ukraine, most notably as a witness in the treason case against the ex-Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych. His killer has been identified as 28-year-old Ukrainian citizen and hired-hitman Pavel Parshov, who died in hospital after receiving a gunshot wound from Voronenkov’s security guard.
Watch Hromadske's interview with Ilya Ponomarev, a fellow former Russian MP who now also lives in an exile in Ukraine. He was due to meet with Voronenkov on the day of his murder.
Denis Voronenkov. Photo: Оleksandr Synytsya/UNIAN
Ilya, you were supposed to meet with Denis the day of his murder. There has been a lot in the media about this and this is probably a very difficult time for you. What do we need to know about the murder?
There is a lot of speculation about who Voronenkov was, and I want to clarify that point. Denis Voronenkov was a very high-profile investigator in Russia, who was at one time, was in charge of anti-smuggling activities in the country, working for the state agency against drug trafficking. And, being that that position, he disclosed a major network of smuggling, including drug smuggling and conventional smuggling, which involved virtually all leadership of the economic department of the Federal Security Service - KGB. He actually managed to get 29 top-ranking generals in the FSB to be fired. That was the beginning of his, so to say, oppositional career in Russia because that alienated a lot of acting officers of the FSB, and most importantly, one of the currently most influential Generals in Russia Oleg Feoktistov, the chief of internal security of the FSB. Internal security means counterintelligence inside of Russia, in the FSB. So this is the guy who can, for example, tap the phone of the Chairman of the FSB without a court order. And, he has the right to directly report to Putin.
So, he is one of the most influential security officers in Russia, and he was a personal enemy of Voronenkov . At one point in time, around 10 years ago, Voronenkov had already survived an assassination attempt in the center of Moscow, and he was shot also, but he survived. He was treated in a military hospital in France, within NATO. At the time, someone from the very top - some people have said that it was Vladimir Putin personally - ordered for no more hostilities, and to stop fighting with each other - ‘Denis, we are no longer investigating the corruption in the FSB’. Guys from the FSB stopped trying to eliminate Denis. That was a kind of ‘flipping of the page’. Denis went into business for a while, but then when he started to feel that it was not forgotten, he decided to get elected to the Duma. He successfully campaigned, and in 2011 he was elected into the State Duma. 3 times inside the Duma the same group of people, led by Oleg Feoktistov, tried to put him in prison, allegedly connected with the machination of buildings in Moscow. Also you need to understand, that the whole case is based on the testimony of one single guy, who has been kept in prison for several years in a row. There are no other pieces of evidence there, so I take this as a totally fraudulent case.
Despite the fact the the Ministry of Defence issued a statement claiming that the fire had been extinguished, single explosions were still being heard at the site. Hromadske journalists visited the city and saw first-hand where the bombs had fallen and the damage they caused.
This is a very lengthy investigation, there are a lot more details and testimonies.
You know, I genuinely like Novaya Gazeta. I know the brand’s Editor-in-Chief. He is one of the remaining liberal outposts in Russia, but this article is a shameful piece. It totally violates journalistic ethics. It was published exactly on the same day when the scandal errupted. It is impossible to create an investigation in several hours, and publish an article, which is several pages long. It is a press release from the FSB. Neither Voronenkov, nor anyone else, was given a chance to reply to that article. So it is a total violation of ethics. I understand that Novaya Gazeta, being a very active investigation unit, they have to cooperate with Russian security to be able to get information. They treat it as Voronenkov is already a 'cut piece', and so, that was their compromise. This article is a pure lie.
I just have to say. We know the journalist that wrote that and we have respect to their previous job.
This article lies and I am ready to speak to their face.
As I know, they tried to reach Voronenkov. You also said that Denis was very valuable to Ukraine. He knew a lot and about the financial contributions for Putin's administrations.
It was very useful that he was here and he testified in the Viktor Yanukovych case. But basically, he didn't need to have any inside knowledge on the Viktor Yanukovych case, because that case is very simple. It's about saying: ‘Yes, there was a letter. The letter was presented in the Russian parliament. Yes we saw it was presented, it is written in the official documents of State Duma, and this affected the voting process of Russian senators,when they agreed to military intervention in Ukraine’. So basically you don’t need anything else, and that is basically you don't need anything else. That is what Dennis said, and that is also what I said in my own testimony on the same case.
Denis' value was in the knowledge of the financial misdeeds of high-ranking Russian Security Generals. And as you know, the whole war in eastern Ukraine is being financed through smuggling activities. So he could have disclosed the particular banks, the particular transactions, the particular people who were responsible for those transactions. I think he was sentenced with dual purpose. Firstly, to show other Russian elites. It was an act of state terrorism as Poroshenko correctly said, but it was a state act of terrorism, not for Ukraine, but an act of state terrorism for Russians. You know you shouldn’t switch sides, that you shouldn’t go to Ukraine and you should not help them. And secondly, to keep him silent, and not to bring to light information about where the money for war is coming from.
So I would like to follow with a tweet from The Moscow Times...
Here, I totally agree, and I always said that Voronenkov is not an angel. Voronenkov was a typical representative of the Russian security forces, and their position is, they are a uniformed people, so we are following orders. All the politics about the annexation of Crimea, war and peace, at the end of the day, that is not our question. We have been told to vote yes, so we will vote yes. If we are told to vote no, we will vote no. But, what we do know, is that we are professionals. That’s our job, that’s our professional pride, that’s our professional honour. And that is about the financial investigations.
He was going to meet you on that sad morning. Was there anything in particular you were going to talk about?
We were going to discuss a very simple thing - Russia was going to demand a red notice for Voronenkov through Interpol, and I helped him to file all the papers for Interpol as a preemptive measure, to avoid the issuing of this red notice. I myself passed the same procedure. Ten of my political aids have political asylum in different countries, and with those that experienced Interpol requests, we were sharing the knowledge. And, that is also because I know very well the substance of the accusations against Voronenkov. To prepare the letter I had to leaf through all the criminal cases opened against him in the past, in the present, sieve through all the material and help his lawyers present the file.
The Ukrainian MP Mustafa Nayyem has said that Voronenkov’s assassination exposes weaknesses in Ukraine's law enforcement, and of course, there has been a lot of discussion here in Ukraine, that they failed to protect an important witness. But what do you think?
Firstly, as we see for example, Alexander Litvinenko, who was protected by MI6 in Great Britain he but he was still assassinated. Boris Berezivsky had the same protection and he was assassinated with the best private security service money can buy. In the US Mikhail Lesin, the defector from Russia was assassinated in the center of Washington DC, being protected by the FBI. So with even the best security services in the world, if professionals want to assassinate someone, are not usually able to do anything. You can put a person on a military base, place security guards, and maybe in this case he would be safe. But we are public people, myself, Denis, others, we don’t want to live this life. We want to be able to come and talk to people like you, and to talk about recent events. And this situation can always happen.
No, I think the failure that Mustafa is talking about is a different thing. The failure was in actually recognizing the value of Denis Voronenkov. Because as I said, the value was not in Yanukovych case. And the failure to give an order to properly protect him. Because all the articles you have just mentioned, from Novaya Gazeta, the wave of duty which was raised by Alexei Navalny, one of Russia's political activists against Denis Voronenkov, actually prevented Ukraine politicians from coming closer to him.
They thought that Denis Voronenkov may turn out to be a toxic asset for themselves. So from one side they say: ‘OK, if you will receive his citizenship through conventional procedure, and not by a presidential decree; if he is able to do it by himself - that's ok, we will not prevent it.’ But the security that was assisting Denis Voronenkov were military, and they were acting just on military orders, and not by legal enforcement procedures, as for example, I am protected right now, by the SBU.
I know you have been asked a few times this question, about the assassination. How do you feel, are you more concerned?
When Denis Voronenkov was deciding to move to Ukraine, at our first meeting in September 2016, we were sitting in a cafe in the center of Kyiv, and he asked me how it would be here, and how would he be able to integrate into Ukrainian society. I said it was a wonderful place, and a great city. I feel this is the best period of my life but, you should also understand that you are buying a ticket to war. It is a fully fledged war, where there are shots [fired], and where we are the victims. He told me that he understood, that and he wants to go for this war. He wants to publish corrupt Russian generals, he wants to change his country, and he wants to serve this country for him.