Alexander Zhuchkovsky reports that there has been an explosion at the “Separ” [separatist] restaurant in Donetsk, killing DNR head Alexander Zakharchenko.
DNR Income and Collections Minister Alexander Timofeev has also been seriously injured.
He had come under increasing criticism in recent years for making loud pronouncements that went unfulfilled, such as promising that the Ukraine would cease to exist in 60 days this March and proclaiming the formation of “Malorossiya” this July. Nonetheless, he was undoubtedly personally courageous, having received a bullet in the leg while near the front line in February 2015, and seemed to have enjoyed much greater popular approval than Igor Plotnitsky in the neighboring LNR (whom he helped ouster in November 2017).
So far, the main reaction from official Russia has been Federation Council head Konstantin Kosachev remarking that this assassination “may have a negative influence on the Minsk Agreements”.
“All of us belong to the same Motherland – Russia” – Zakharchenko.
Vice Premier Dmitry Trapeznikov has been appointed Acting Head of the DNR. He has close ties with Alexander Khodakovsky, whose enthusiasm for the Novorossiya cause has never been particularly high, and both men are connected to the Donbass oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaction: “We call on Kiev to disavow terrorist methods of resolving domestic Ukrainian problems. We hope that the relevant Ukrainian politicians find the strength to stop the party of war and prevent an escalation of conflict in Donbass.”
My assessment is that they are quietly washing their hands off the affair (“domestic Ukrainian problems”). There will be no more significant actions to punish Kiev than after the assassinations of Motorola or Givi.
Alexander Zhuchkovsky has an obituary at VK.com. “Bad politician, but a good person.” Was criticized for his overly compromissory attitudes towards Kiev, but in reality, he had no choice; while he earnestly desired for the Donbass to rejoin Russia, it is not exactly a secret that the DNR’s foreign policy was set by Moscow.
Who did it? I strongly believe that it was the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian military (inc. special forces) are getting better, so I don’t consider it technically beyond them. For its part, the Kremlin had no good reason to remove Zakharchenko, a popular and well-liked leader who followed their orders. Nor were there any other DNR factions strongly opposed to him, as was the case until recently under the heavily criminalized regime of Plotnitsky in the neighboring LNR. The Ukrainians are keeping silent because to claim otherwise would force the kremlins to choose between retaliation or humiliation. Not to also mention that the bomb blast killed several innocents, including a child.