In August 2016, Alexander Shchetinin, a Russian-born journalist and prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was found dead on the balcony of his Kiev home with a gunshot wound to the head. On March 23, Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian Communist Party lawmaker and another a well-known Putin critic, was shot dead as he walked down a Kiev street on the way to a meeting in a hotel. The brazen assassination occurred at 11:30 a.m. in central Kiev, despite the fact that Voronenkov had been accompanied by an armed bodyguard who shot the assassin dead.
On June 1, Adam Osmayev, a critic of the pro-Kremlin Chechen government, narrowly escaped death when his wife, a Chechen militant, shot and wounded a would-be assassin, who had shot him twice in the chest. The assailant, Artur Denisultanov-Kurmakayev, a Russian national born in Chechnya, had posed as a French journalist and had arranged an interview.
On June 27, Col. Maxim Shapoval, a Ukrainian military intelligence officer, was killed in an assassination similar to the Sheremet hit. A small sticky bomb had been planted under Shapoval's car; it probably used a plastic explosive and was command-detonated as he was on his way to work. Kiev has clearly become a dangerous place for those perceived to be enemies of Putin and his Chechen vassal, Kadyrov.
Not Amateur Bombmakers
And this brings us back to the Mahauri assassination. The device used to kill him spared his passengers, indicating that it employed a small shaped charge, also likely a plastic explosive, judging from video of the explosion. It also looks as if it had been command-detonated. The assassination carried all the hallmarks of a professional, state-sponsored operation. The device that killed him almost certainly had been built by an experienced bombmaker who calibrated its explosive potential to kill without causing too much collateral damage. Although this attack happened in the evening rather than during the morning drive to work, it carried many similarities to the assassinations of Shapoval and Sheremet. Ukrainian investigators will certainly be looking for forensic evidence to conclusively link the three bombings.
In addition to his activities in Ukraine, Mahauri had fought with the Georgian military when the Russians invaded that country in 2008, Ukrainian press reports say. That would have put him in the crosshairs of Russian intelligence, which reportedly had attempted to kill him on three past occasions, including placing a bomb in the stairwell of his apartment building in Tbilisi in March 2009. Given that history and the recent spate of assassinations in Kiev, Mahauri would have been wise to have taken more precautions.
The best defense against a sticky bomb attack is to keep a vehicle locked in a secure area to prevent easy access. After the Sheremet killing, video emerged showing the assassins putting the bomb under his car as it sat by the curb outside his apartment. If a vehicle must be parked in an unsecured area, a small mirror with a light on a telescopic pole can be used to check the underside for sticky bombs. Given the tempo of Russian and Chechen activity in Kiev, it is hard to believe that Mahauri had grown complacent. Investigators will be attempting to reconstruct his schedule before the detonation to clarify where and when the bomb had been stuck under his vehicle.
A number of Russia's enemies remain in Kiev. Given the recent deadly events, it would not be surprising if more murders followed there. To escape Mahauri's fate, those who find themselves at odds with the Kremlin will need to be more careful.