Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the Ukraine separatist movement was killed in a bomb blast, on Friday August 31st, in a war-themed café located in eastern Ukraine. The Russia-backed separatists have been fighting against Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Zakharchenko occupied the position of prime minister in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. The blast underlines the poor prospects of resolving the conflict, which has so far killed more than 10,000 people.
Rebel and Russian authorities have accused the Ukrainian government of orchestrating the blast. They have even suggested the possibility of involvement from the United States.
A top Ukrainian security official has, however, suggested that the blast was most likely the result of factional infighting within the separatist movement. The Ukrainian official also suggested that the blast could have been undertaken by Russian special forces.
The blast took place in the region’s capital of Donetsk, according to the deputy rebel military commander Eduard Basurin. The bomb was placed inside a restaurant called "Separ" and decorated with camouflage netting, in honour of the separatists.
Alexander Timofeev, who is the separatists’ revenues and taxes minister, was seriously injured in the blast. This is not the first time Timofeev has been injured in a bombing. In September last year he was injured in a blast in Donetsk.
There has been a significant decrease in fighting since the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France signed an accord in Minsk, Belarus, in 2015. The accord was intended to stop the violence, but many of the provisions found in the accord have yet to be met. As a result, clashes continue to break out.
"The assassination of the DPR head makes the Minsk accords devoid of sense," said Russian parliament speaker Alexander Volodin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded Zakharchenko, who was 42, as "a true people's leader". "Russia always will be with you," Putin promised Donetsk residents.
Denis Pushilin, the speaker of the separatists' parliament, placed the blame squarely on Ukraine's forces, calling it "the latest aggression from the Ukrainian side," according to the rebels' DAN news agency. A statement from the rebel command said, "It was conducted by special operation forces of Ukraine under control of US special services."
"Instead of fulfilling the Minsk accords and finding ways to resolve the internal conflict, the Kiev war party is implementing a terrorist scenario," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, in response to the news of Zakharchenko's death. "Having failed to fulfil the promise of peace, apparently they decided to turn to a bloodbath."
Igor Guskov, who is the chief of staff of the Ukrainian Security Service, rejected the allegations of any involvement. "We have reason to believe that the death of Zakharchenko may be the result of an internal criminal conflict among the rebels... but we do not exclude that it was an attempt by Russian special services to remove this odious figure," he said.
According to AP, there have been several assassinations, or attempted assassinations, of prominent rebels in recent years. It has not yet been established if pro-Kiev attackers were responsible, or if the violence resulted from disputes within the rebel ranks or Moscow's possible desire to eliminate individuals it found inconvenient.
The separatists who have been targeted include Luhansk leader Igor Plotnitsky, who was severely injured in 2016 when a bomb exploded near his car. Then there was Arsen Pavlov, a feared squadron leader known as "Motorola", who died when the elevator of his apartment building was bombed.