The crime was reportedly part of Kiev’s assassination campaign in the prelude to hostilities with Russia FILE PHOTO: The tombstone on the grave of Arsen ‘Motorola’ Pavlov in Donetsk. © Sputnik / Ilya Pitalev

A Russian military tribunal has ordered lengthy prison sentences for four people in the case related to the 2016 murder of Arsen Pavlov, a senior military officer in the then-breakaway Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

Pavlov, also known under his nom-de-guerre, ‘Motorola’, was killed in October 2016 by a powerful explosive device planted over an elevator cabin in his apartment block in Donetsk. His bodyguard, Vasily Churilov, also died in the attack.

In February, the New York Times reported that the assassination had been conducted by members of the CIA-trained Fifth Directorate of the SBU, the Ukrainian successor to the KGB. The newspaper said the people involved in the operation were given commemorative patches, each one stitched with the word ‘Lift’, the British-originating Ukrainian term for an elevator. Previous reports in the Western press described a program of political assassinations run by the Ukrainian government.

The Russian tribunal passed a life sentence to the person who planted the IED, Aleksandr Pogorelov. The case included several other charges against him and three other members of what Russian prosecutors labeled an “SBU-created terrorist cell.”

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These included the attempted assassinations of another military official in Donetsk in 2016 and the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko. There was also the assassination of a military leader in the Lugansk People’s Republic in 2016. The Ukrainians also tried to kill Pavlov months prior to the successful bomb plot, Russian investigators have said.

The other accomplices were given prison terms ranging between 12 and 17 years. All four pleaded not guilty during the proceedings. Pogorelov reportedly declared during the trial: “Overall I do not disclaim my actions, but I don’t consider myself guilty, since I did no crime on Russian territory.”

The two Donbass republics split from Ukraine in the wake of the US-backed armed coup in Kiev in 2014. After the new authorities attempted to quash their rebellion by military force, people in Donetsk and Lugansk successfully resisted and declared themselves independent from Ukraine.

Moscow backed a roadmap for reconciliation between Kiev and the ethnic Russian separatists in the form of the 2014-2015 Minsk Agreements, which would have given them broad autonomy. Ukrainian officials later admitted that they had taken the deal purely to win time and build up their military with NATO’s help. The self-proclaimed entities joined Russia in late 2022, giving it jurisdiction over the case. (RT)