KIEV, Ukraine — One of the biggest mysteries hanging over the protest mayhem that drove Ukraine’s president from power: Who was behind the snipers who sowed death and terror in Kiev?
That riddle has become the latest flashpoint of feuding over Ukraine – with the nation’s fledgling government and the Kremlin giving starkly different interpretations of events that could either undermine or bolster the legitimacy of the new rulers.
Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia – pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government.
The government’s new health minister – a doctor who helped oversee medical treatment for casualties during the protests – told The Associated Press that the similarity of bullet wounds suffered by opposition victims and police indicates the shooters were trying to stoke tensions on both sides and spark even greater violence, with the goal of toppling Yanukovych.
“I think it wasn’t just a part of the old regime that (plotted the provocation), but it was also the work of Russian special forces who served and maintained the ideology of the (old) regime,” Health Minister Oleh Musiy said.
Putin has pushed the idea that the sniper shootings were ordered by opposition leaders.
The sniper fire added a terrifying element to the protests, coming from rooftops and windows in the heart of Kiev.
Most of the more than 100 people who died in the violence were shot by snipers armed with powerful rifles; hundreds were also injured by the gunfire and other street fighting.