October 19, 2016 - 6:49 AM
MOSCOW - Thousands turned out Wednesday for the funeral of a senior commander of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, who was killed in a bomb blast.
Arsen Pavlov, 33, also known by nom de guerre Motorola, was killed Sunday when an unidentified device exploded in an elevator of his apartment building in Donetsk. His bodyguard was also killed.
Thousands lined up in Donetsk on Wednesday to pay tribute at the local opera house, where his body was displayed.
Rebel officials blamed the explosion on Ukrainian saboteurs and threatened retribution. He was reportedly called Motorola because he dealt with communications when he served in the Russian military in the 1990s.
Russian-born Pavlov became one of the most recognizable faces of the separatist movement. His unit took part in some of the fiercest battles in the conflict that has killed more than 9,600 since April 2014.
Ukrainian officials have accused Pavlov of war crimes, and he once admitted personally killing 15 prisoners of war.
Pavlov's death came as leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France were set to meet in Berlin on Wednesday for talks aimed at reviving the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine.
The 2015 Minsk deal brokered by France and Germany envisaged that Ukraine regains control of the rebellious region's border with Russia after granting them special status, holding local elections there and offering amnesty to the rebels.
Ukraine has accused Russia of failing to withdraw its troops and weapons from the east, but Moscow has denied having any presence there. The Kremlin, in turn, has argued that Ukraine has failed to meet its end of the Minsk deal by not providing autonomy to the eastern regions and calling elections there.
Some said that Pavlov's killing could further fuel tensions in the region.
"Despite a shaky truce, there is a real danger of the resumption of hostilities in eastern Ukraine," said Vadim Karasyov, a Kyiv-based political analyst.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016