From falling down flights of stairs and falling out windows to being found hanged with their family members stabbed, mysterious and suspicious deaths that seem to come straight from the pages of a political thriller have been on the rise for any Russian oligarchs who dare to oppose Putin in the slightest.
In 2022 alone, around two dozen notable Russians were found dead. High-profile locations and occupations have not been a deterrent for any of these suspicious deaths meaning safety is hard to seek for anyone who may suspect that they will be the next target.
In July, the energy tycoon Yuri Voronov was found at his suburban home in St. Petersburg, floating in his pool with a bullet wound in his head. Meanwhile in Washington D.C, Latvia-born Putin critic Dan Rapoport fell out of a window of his apartment a mere mile from the White House. Pavel Antov, a meat processing company executive who has openly criticized the war previously, was found to have met the same fate as Rapopoart at the hotel he was staying at in India.
These, along with roughly two dozen more have been met with untimely and suspicious deaths, with many others having been mysteriously killed in previous years, often through poisonings using radioactive elements or nerve agents.
While some of these are easier attributed to murder then others, multiple oligarchs have been found with suicide notes while others, such as Vasily Melnikov, Vladislav Avayev, and Sergey Protosenya where all found in apparent murder-suicides with their wives and children. Protosenya’s wife and children were found stabbed in their beds while he was discovered hanged in the yard of the Spanish villa. Others have been found hanged or shot with suicide notes close by.
Some of these deaths can be attributed to murder with a high degree of certainty. However, for others the rising pressure and sanctions put in place to apply pressure and stress on Russia, make it possible that those who have lost vast sums of money or have ties to the Russian elite could plausibly have killed themselves.
“Imagine what happens to a globalized country when sanctions kick in,” said Edward Luttwak, a historian and military-strategy expert,“some of them will commit suicide.”
With suicide rates for men in Russia being amongts the highest in the world, it could be that at least one of these deaths has nothing to do with outer influences. And certainly being Russian does not exempt a person from having actual accidents and slipping once in a while.
However, the Kremlin is known for having tried to wipe out opposition in the past and at a time like this where Putin is trying to keep Russians in the dark about the war in Ukraine, the possibility of his involvement in these deaths cannot be dismissed.
In 2018 Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, a Soviet-era poison at their home in England. While not killed, they remained in critical condition for weeks and others were not so lucky. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-spy and critic of Vladimir Putin was poisoned and killed by tea laced with polonium-210, a highly radioactive isotope. British authorities concluded that Putin had “probably” approved Litvinenkos death. The Kremlin denied any involvement.
While the number of Putin critics who have died since he first came to power in 2000 is hard to know, endless journalists, ex-spies, double agents and critics have been victims of the Kremlin through elaborate poisoning using potent substances most familiar, to most people, from movies. Whatever the number is, it has only risen since Russia’s war on Ukraine. Some speculate that some of these deaths have been intended to send messages to other wealthy and influential Russians to watch their backs while others were simply to weed out those who created problems and spoke ill of Putin and his war in Ukraine.
Micheal Weiss, who written and reported about Russia and the Middle East for over 10 years says that “These are the clues of evidence that the Russians are fond of using,” Weiss told the Atlantic, in reference to the suicides and poisonings specifically.
“They want us to know that it was murder, but they don’t want us to be able to definitively conclude it was murder.”
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