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Separatist Leader in Eastern Ukraine Survives Assassination Attempt

  • VOA News

FILE - Igor Plotnitsky, leader of pro-Russian rebels in the Luhansk region, speaks to reporters after talks on a cease-fire in Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 5, 2014. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's Luhansk region say Plotnitsky was wounded in a car bombing.

FILE - Igor Plotnitsky, leader of pro-Russian rebels in the Luhansk region, speaks to reporters after talks on a cease-fire in Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 5, 2014. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's Luhansk region say Plotnitsky was wounded in a car bombing.

The Russian-backed leader of a separatist region in eastern Ukraine was seriously wounded Saturday in an apparent assassination attempt, Russian and Ukrainian media reported.

The pro-Russian separatist Luhansk Information Center said a bomb exploded early Saturday near the car of rebel leader Igor Plotnitsky in the capital of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic. By early Sunday, no one had claimed responsibility.

Russian media later showed footage of a mangled sport utility vehicle and quoted a rebel spokesman as saying Plotnitsky was hospitalized in stable condition.

Separatists quickly blamed "saboteurs" who they say were trained by Ukraine government special forces, while the Kyiv government denied any link to the attack.

Ukrainian government spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told the news outlet Interfax-Ukraine that the attack was "most probably a result of infighting ... a power struggle" within rebel factions vying for control of key cities in eastern Ukraine.

Separatists in the Russian-speaking east launched a rebellion against Ukraine rule in April 2014 that has killed more than 9,500 people, most of them civilians. More than 1 million others have been displaced.

Luhansk and the nearby Donetsk territories were heavily shelled by government forces for months before Plotnitsky and other separatist leaders signed a peace deal with Kyiv in 2015 that reduced the frequency and intensity of fighting near the Russian border.

Unlike leaders in Donetsk, senior Luhansk rebels have been embroiled in fierce infighting for more than two years.

A Plotnitsky rival and one of Luhansk's most visible commanders, Alex Mozgovoi, was killed last year along with several colleagues when his car was bombed and strafed by gunfire near the Russian border. No one has claimed responsibility for that killing, and no arrests have been reported.

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