Ukrainian authorities say they found the body Friday of a lawyer representing one of two Russian soldiers being tried on terrorism charges.
Yuriy Grabovsky was the defense attorney for Aleksander Aleksandrov, who was arrested last May on terrorism charges stemming from the separatist conflict in pro-Moscow eastern Ukraine. Grabovsky's body was found buried near Kyiv.
Aleksanrov and another soldier (Yevgeny Yerofeyev) were allegedly members of the Russian military last year when they crossed the border into Ukraine.
Russia denies any involvement in the border crossing, and has said both the soldiers quit their special forces unit before traveling into the war zone of their own accord. The soldiers refuted the official Russian statement, and instead, said they were active soldiers at the time of the operation and had been sent into Ukraine on a reconnaissance mission.
Grabovsky disappeared March 5 and police detained two men, one of whom led investigators to Grabovsky’s body.
Ukraine’s top military prosecutor, Anatoly Matios, told reporters Friday that Grabovsky “was killed in a violent way and finished off with a firearm.”
FILE - In this grab taken from Associated Press Television footage on Nov. 3, 2015, Yuri Grabovsky speaks during a trial hearing at the Holosiivskyi District Court in Kyiv, Ukraine. A lawyer for two Russian servicemen on trial in Ukraine has been found dead.
According to Matios, the suspects “had received a lot of money” to kill Grabovsky, and went a long way to create alibis for themselves. He said Ukrainian authorities are “studying the possibility of this being a specially planned operation,” and that it would be in Russia’s interest to have the trial delayed.
Russia blames Ukraine
Russia denies involvement in the death of Grabovsky. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement Friday blaming the Ukrainian government for failing to protect the lawyer.
“Despite all warnings, Kyiv authorities were still unable or unwilling to guarantee Grabovsky’s safety,” the statement read.
Matios said the soldiers’ trial will continue as planned, despite the absence of Grabovsky.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Petro Poreshenko said he would be willing to trade the two soldiers back to Russia if Russian authorities agreed to return Ukrainians – including Nadiya Savchenko, a helicopter pilot who was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years in a Russian prison for her alleged involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists.