Russia accuses Ukraine of assassinating separatist leader

A key separatist leader in eastern Ukraine has been killed in a blast at a coffee shop in Donetsk, according to rebels. The explosion on Friday fatally wounded Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, which has been pushing for independence since 2014. Russia accused Ukraine of assassinating the 42-year-old, but Kiev said it had nothing to do with the explosion and blamed separatist infighting.

Zakharchenko "received injuries incompatible with life as a result of an explosion in the centre of Donetsk", the separatist administration said in a statement. It added that the blast also injured Alexander Timofeyev, the deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the killing a "dastardly" crime aimed at destabilising a fragile regional peace. "I expect that the organisers and executors of this crime will get the deserved punishment," he said in a telegram of condolences released by the Kremlin.

Russia's Investigative Committee, the state body that handles major crimes, said it was treating the killing as "an act of international terrorism".

A shaky internationally-brokered ceasefire has been in force since 2015, halting large-scale fighting, though there are still frequent outbreaks of shooting incidents on the front line between the separatists and Ukrainian forces.

Russia's foreign ministry said it had every reason to believe Kiev was responsible for Zakharchenko's death, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Rossiya-24 state television station. Zakharchenko's death shows that Kiev has decided to engage in a "bloody fight" and has passed on its promises of seeking peace, she said.

In Kiev, a spokeswoman for the state security service, Yelena Gitlyanskaya, dismissed Moscow's accusations. "According to our information, this was the result of internal fighting which has already been continuing for years between the terrorists and their Russian sponsors," she said.

 

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