Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has promised an open and thorough investigation into former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko's death. Initial reports are focusing on the possibility that Mr. Kravchenko committed suicide, after being called before investigators examining opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze's murder.

President Yushchenko told lawmakers in Ukraine's parliament, the Rada, that in order to succeed, investigators examining the Kravchenko case have to be in full accordance with the law and beyond politics.

That will likely be a tough task, given that Mr. Kravchenko was seen as a key witness in the Gongadze murder case, due to his close personal relationship to former President Leonid Kuchma, who has repeatedly denied any role in the reporter's death.

Mr. Yushchenko, who has made resolving the Gongadze case a key priority of his new administration, added that as soon as the full circumstances surrounding Mr. Kravchenko's death were known, the public would be told.

Mr. Kravchenko's body was found at a cottage outside Kiev Friday morning, hours before he was due to undergo questioning by Ukrainian prosecutors probing the Gongadze case. The news agency, Interfax-Ukraine, quotes police as saying he died of a gunshot wound.

Kiev-based independent political analyst Ivan Lozowy says Mr. Kravchenko's death is a significant blow to the prosecution's case, as well as the to the Ukrainian people's hopes for justice. As Mr. Lozowy put it, the truth as to who actually ordered Mr. Gongadze's murder may have gone to the grave Friday with Mr. Kravchenko.

"He [Kravchenko] was the only conduit that could have led to former President Leonid Kuchma because it is very, very unlikely that Yuri Kravchenko would have given the o.k., the go-ahead, to this kind of wide-scale operation without [Mr.] Kuchma's approval," said Ivan Lozowy. "So, [Mr.] Kravchenko's death may mean that we may not see on this case prosecution of [Mr.] Kuchma which, if Mr. Kravchenko had remained alive, was very likely."

Mr. Lozowy says calls are now under way for the immediate protection of others involved in the case.

Earlier this week, Ukraine's Prosecutor General said investigators had identified all four people involved in Mr. Gongadze's death, including the mastermind. But he refused to identify who ordered the killing.

Mr. Gongadze's death sparked months of protests against Mr. Kuchma, who is currently on vacation in the Czech Republic. At least one political party, the Communists, are now calling for the former president's immediate arrest.

The long-standing allegations against Mr. Kuchma are based on recordings that a former presidential bodyguard said were made in Mr. Kuchma's office without his knowledge. In the tapes, Mr. Kuchma is widely reported to be overheard complaining to Mr. Kravchenko about Mr. Gongadze's critical reporting and ordering that he be killed.