Oleg Smorodinov may not appear the elite Russian killer. But the 51-year-old with a crooked boxer's face admits to murdering a man at the behest of two mysterious Russians who paid him with a Mercedes van—and, surprisingly, he's willing to talk to the New York Times. "It was revenge," says the ethnic Russian. "Most likely revenge." Cornered by DNA evidence at the scene, he says he emptied a pistol into Ukrainian electrician Ivan Mamchur in the man's apartment building in 2016. His defense isn't too persuasive (he thought it was a "test" with blanks for bullets) and Ukrainian officials don't seem interested in digging. To them, it's another casualty in Ukraine's ongoing battle with Russia. "The main purpose ... is to destabilize the country," says Serhii Knyazev, the chief of national police.
But there's more: Smorodinov gave the Times a list of six people his handlers told him to locate in Ukraine, including Smorodinov. It turns out at least three were Ukrainian soldiers involved in delivering sophisticated weapons to the Republic of Georgia for a five-day, losing battle against Russia in August 2008 (catch up at CNN). Vladimir Putin, who considers Ukrainians and Russians "one people," called it treachery and vowed revenge. Smorodinov is portrayed in the Times as the simple-minded, amoral killer who carried out that revenge against one of the targets. Now, his trial ongoing, he hopes Moscow will exchange him for a Ukrainian imprisoned in Russia. But no luck yet: "He doesn't understand that no one needs him," says Knyazev. "He's forgotten, written off, a used bullet." Click for the full story. (Read more Russia stories.)