SUKHUMI, September 10 (RAPSI/RIA Novosti) – Investigators have begun questioning possible witnesses in the murder of a Russian diplomat in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, local authorities said Tuesday, as speculation about possible motives continued to swirl.
Dmitry Vishernyov, first secretary at Russia's embassy in Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhumi, was killed by a gunshot to the head in the garage of his home at about 8:30 a.m. on Monday, local police said. His wife was badly wounded in the attack and hospitalized, according to law enforcement sources.
Russia’s ambassador to Abkhazia, which is recognized as independent only by Moscow and a handful of small nations, told reporters that investigators are considering a number of explanations for the killing, including a terrorist attack, as well as seeking clues in Vishernyov’s professional and personal life.
The Moscow-based daily newspaper Kommersant reported Tuesday that the 36-year-old diplomat had been involved in resolving property-related conflicts affecting Russian nationals. Citing an unnamed source “taking part in the investigation,” the paper said the conflicts arose because seaside property purchased by Russian citizens “often turned out to have several owners, including Georgians expelled from the republic.”
Abkhazia de facto broke away from Georgia following an ethnically tinged war in 1992-93, and was formally recognized as independent by Russia in 2008 after a conflict with Georgia over its other disputed region, South Ossetia. Moscow has been a close ally of Abkhazia in its drive for independence and has a security assistance agreement with Sukhumi; many Abkhaz hold Russian citizenship.
Initially, investigators said three 9-mm shell casings and a homemade explosive device were found at the scene of the crime. However, Kommersant reported that the explosive device was a dummy and the weapon used in the shooting may have been a converted gas pistol or air gun refitted to fire 9-mm bullets.
The paper also said that prosecutors had determined the killer had acted alone, and that a sole eyewitness to the crime had described the shooter as “Slavic-looking,” which the paper tentatively linked to a recent trip Vishernyov had taken to visit family in Siberia.
Early on, local officials had speculated that the killing may have been politically motivated, not only because the victim was a diplomat, but because the crime took place on the fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Abkhazia and Russia, Kommersant reported.
Political violence has plagued Abkhazia in the past. In February 2012, the republic’s president, Alexander Ankvab, survived a gun-and-bomb attack on his motorcade.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has dispatched specialists to assist the Abkhazian investigators, while Moscow’s powerful Investigative Committee said it may soon do the same.