The sudden Russian death syndrome

The defenestration of millionaire Pavel Antov in Odisha is the latest in a series of mysterious deaths of Russian oligarchs, millionaires and members of Putin’s inner circle

Published: 08th January 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th January 2023 12:40 AM   |  A+A-

Putin critics

For representational purposes

On August 20, 1940, a Spanish communist named Ramón Mercader killed Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in Mexico City, where the world’s most famous Communist and Stalin’s greatest foe was living in exile. 

The Ukrainian Jew called himself Trotsky since 1902, a word adapted from the German ‘trotz,’ or ‘defiance.’ Stalin expelled him from the Communist Party in 1927 and sent KGB assassins after him. In his book, The Revolution Betrayed, published in 1937, he wrote that the USSR under Stalin was a totalitarian state. Mercader was tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. After his release in 1960, Fidel Castro welcomed him to Cuba and declared him a hero of the Soviet Union. 

Russian sausage tycoon and 65-year-old lawmaker Pavel Antov, who took a dive off the third floor of Sai International Hotel in Rayagada town in Odisha, was no Trotsky, but nevertheless was critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian military misadventure.

He is one of the three Russians who died suspiciously within a fortnight in India and the first in the Sudden Russian Death Syndrome the phenomenon that describes the abrupt, mysterious deaths of many oligarchs, bureaucrats, businessmen and journalists critical of Putin. Antov fell out of a hotel window defenestration is 
a common theme in the fatal list of two dozen important Russians who were found dead in bizarre circumstances last year.

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, which was supposed to be the finale of the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014. The invasion, which faltered in the first month itself, led to crippling sanctions on the Russian economy and thousands of Russian and Ukrainian deaths. Most of the initial disagreement with the war surfaced first among the oligarchs, who had benefited from being Putin’s cronies.

Putin with Ravil Maganov, chairman of
Russian oil company Lukoil, who
died on September 1, 2022 

Window to Russia 

The deaths open a window to the vindictiveness of the state. One of the first open window fatalities was Dan Rapoport, a Latvian-born American millionaire, who fell from the window of his Washington DC apartment, just a mile from the White House, on August 14, 2022. The police are still investigating.

Two weeks later, on September 1, another Putin foe, Ravil Maganov, literally took the fall. The chairman of Russia’s largest privately owned oil and gas company, Lukoil, fell six storeys from a window of the Moscow Central Clinical Hospital, where he was admitted after a heart attack.

His company, with a straight face, issued a statement, saying, “We deeply regret to announce that Ravil Maganov, Chairman of PJSC Lukoil Board of Directors, passed away following a severe illness.”

Lukoil had publicly attacked Putin against the invasion, sided with its victims and asked for the war to end. In December, Grigory Kochenov, the 41-year-old creative director of Agima, a major Russian IT company, toppled to his death from the balcony of his apartment in Nizhny Novgorod while police officers were reportedly searching his place. The same month, Dmitry Zelenov, a 50-year-old Russian oligarch whose fortune Forbes estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, died mysteriously by falling down the stairs.

Gas chamber of horrors 

Then there are the mysterious suicides of Russia’s gas company executives in 2022. Six of them worked with or were former associates of, the two biggest Russian energy corporations. Four of them were connected to the mammoth state-owned energy company Gazprom in one capacity or the other. The remaining two were part of the system of Lukoil.

After the energy standoff between Putin and the West peaked, many gas industry magnates and leaders died in bewildering situations. Leonid Shulman, head of Gazprom Invest, which handles investment projects for the gas company, was found dead on January 30 in the bathroom of a cottage.

On April 18, Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Vladimir Avayev, ex-Kremlin official and former Vice-President for Gazprombank, found the bodies of her parents and sister in their Moscow apartment. According to the police, the banker supposedly killed them out of jealousy.

Then there was Sergei Protosenya, another top gas executive and head of Russia’s largest liquefied natural gas producer, Novatek, who also reportedly shot his wife and daughter at a villa in a sea resort in Lloret de Mar, Spain, and turned the gun on himself. 

Western nations pay for Russian gas deliveries through Gazprombank, the financial section of Gazprom and Russia’s third-largest financial institution. A 61-year-old former senior Gazprom official, Alexander Tyulakov, was found hanging in a garage of his luxurious St. Petersburg home on February 25. So was Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Watford, in March, in his massive mansion in the UK.

News site Visegrád 24 reported that the British Police investigating his death suspect that he could have been on a kill list. In July, the corpse of Yuri Voronov, the CEO and multi-millionaire founder of Astra Shipping, which dealt with Gazprom contracts, was found floating in a swimming pool of a cottage in Leningrad with a gunshot wound to the back of his head a favourite KGB execution method.

Andrei Krukovsky, the director of the Gazprom-owned Krasnaya Polyana ski resort, mysteriously fell off a cliff while hiking in May. Alexander Subbotin, a former top manager of Lukoil, was found dead the same month in the basement of a house in Mytishchi near Moscow, allegedly from toad venom supplied by a voodoo practitioner named Alexei Pindyurin. Russian energy executive Ivan Pechorin, 39, was found drowned off the coast of Vladivostok in September, becoming the ninth oil and gas millionaire to die mysteriously. Previously, his 43-year-old general director Igor Nosov reportedly died from a ‘stroke’.

“It is not uncommon to be told, ‘We can come to you or you can do the manly thing and commit suicide, take yourself off the chess board. At least you’ll have the agency of your own undoing,’” Michael Weiss, a journalist and the author of a forthcoming book on the GRU, the Russian military-intelligence agency, told The Atlantic.

Did Antov really fall out of his window in India? Was he pushed by a Kremlin agent? Or did he get a call that threatened his family and made him feel he had no option but to leap? “All of these things are possible,” Weiss told The Atlantic reporter. He could very well be referring to Antov, whose friend Vladimir Budanov had died of a heart attack in the hotel just a few days ago.

Coincidentally, last June, Antov had lambasted a Russian missile attack on a residential block in Kyiv that left a man dead and his seven-year-old daughter and her mother wounded. His WhatsApp message read, “It’s extremely difficult to call all this anything but terror.” He retracted the statement later, but fell out of the hotel window a few months later. The hotel staff noticed that Antov was distraught and even kicked a Sai International employee on the way up to the terrace.

Obviously, the Odisha Police is nobody’s fool: DGP Sunil Bansal has assured that the investigation is being conducted with an open mind. They have questioned the Russian couple and the interpreter who accompanied Antov while investigating whether the millionaire fell accidentally, jumped off or was pushed. Flight manifests are being examined to ascertain whether any other Russian travelled to the state during that period.

Depression is an ageless Russian trope, Dostoyevskian in scope and darkness, Chekovian in dark humour and Tolstoyish-like timeless Russia. Can a country that has known only revolutions and despots dare to hope for more?

Critical mass 

List of some of the Putin critics who have died mysteriously between 2014 and 2020

Alexander Tolmachev (November 2020): Journalist jailed in 2011 on trumped-up charges; died in prison shortly before he was due to be released

Salman Tepsurkaev (September 2020): The administrator of the 1ADAT Telegram channel that monitored human rights abuses was abducted and allegedly blown up with a grenade in his mouth

Mamikhan Umarov (July 2020): Chechen separatist and Ramzan Kadyrov critic; shot in Vienna

Nikita Isayev (November 2019): Politician, economist and journalist; died on a train returning from Moscow to Tambov of suspected poisoning by FSB 

Yelena Grigorieva (July 2019): Anti-Putin and LGBT activist; stabbed to death in St. Petersburg 

Dmitri Gribov (February 2019): Anti-corruption activist; beaten to death with baseball bats in Moscow 

Kirill Tomatsky (February 2019): Rapper; died of ‘heart attack’ after a concert in Izhevsk 
Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko (July 2018): Journalists working for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s media outlet, investigating Russia’s Wagner mercenaries; killed in ambush

Petr Ofitserov (July 2018): Businessman convicted with high-profile dissident Alexei Navalny in 2013; died from a head injury reportedly during a stroke

Yelena Gremina (May 2018): Founder of liberal theatre Teatr.doc in Moscow; died due to ‘heart and kidney failure’ six weeks after her husband Mikhail Ugarov

Mikhail Abramyan (April 2018): Krasnodar political and environmental activist; died after an undiagnosed illness of suspected poisoning 

Maxim Borodin (April 2018): Novy Den agency journalist who exposed deaths of Wagner contractors in Syria from a US airstrike; fell from a window of his flat

Mikhail Ugarov (April 2018): Artistic director of liberal theatre Teatr.doc in Moscow that was regularly harassed by authorities; died of a “heart attack” 

Nikolai Glushkov (March 2018): Business partner of Putin critic and billionaire Boris Berezovsky; found hanging in his London home 

Konstantin Sinitsin (January 2018): Opposition activist in St. Petersburg; beaten to death at the entrance of the building where he lived

Vedzhiye Kashka (November 2017): Crimean Tatar activist; died in Simferopol in prison

Serhiy Samarskiy (November 2017): Politician who initiated a decision in 2015 to label Russia an aggressor country; found outside his flat with a smashed skull

Amina Okueva (October 2017): Chechen fighter for Ukraine, married to Adam Osmayev, who was accused of plotting to kill Putin; died in an ambush

Alexei Stroganov (October 2017): Opposition activist; killed with an iron bar

Timur Mahauri (September 2017): Chechen with Georgian citizenship fighting for Ukraine; killed in a car bombing in Kiev

Anton Nossik (July 2017): Russian-Israeli blogger and Putin critic; died of a ‘heart attack’ at a dacha outside Moscow

Yuriy Voznyi (June 2017): Ukrainian Security Service officer; killed in IED blast

Maxim Shapoval (June 2017): Head of Reserve of Main Department of Intelligence at Ukrainian Defence Ministry; killed in a car bombing in Kiev

Dmitri Popkov (May 2017): Journalist who reported on police corruption; shot dead in the bathhouse
Nikolai Andrushchenko (April 2017): Co-founder and editor of opposition 

newspaper Novy Peterburg; attacked and killed in St. Petersburg by unidentified men

Denis Voronenkov (March 2017): Former Russian MP who fled to Ukraine with singer-MP wife Maria Maksakova in 2016; shot dead in front of a hotel in Kiev 

Yevgeny Khamaganov (March 2017): Opposition journalist; died of a broken neck after a beating

Viktor Parshutkin (February 2017): Lawyer who represented Ukrainian political prisoner Serhiy Lytvynov captured by Russia; died of unknown causes in Moscow

Alexander Kadakin (January 2017): Russian ambassador to India; died in hospital after a brief illness

Pavel Sheremet (July 2016): Belarusian-born Russian journalist and Nemtsov’s friend; killed in a car bombing in Kiev

Sergei Tikhonov (June 2016): Blogger allegedly killed by lethal injection on the orders of ‘Putin’s chef’ Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta

Ruslan Israpilov (May 2016): Former Chechen fighter shot dead at his home in Ilimtepe, Turkey

Matthew Puncher (May 2016): Polonium expert involved in Litvinenko inquiry ‘stabbed himself to death’ at home in Oxfordshire after a trip to Russia. (Litvinenko, a former FSB spymaster who defected to the UK, was allegedly poisoned by Russian agents in London.)

Alesya Malakyan (January 2016): Daughter of opposition activist Irina Kalmykova, who was fleeing from Russia to Ukraine to escape her trial for protesting; died of unknown causes in Moscow
Ruslan Magomedragimov (March 2015): Dagestani activist; found dead near his car in Kaspiysk of suspected FSB poisoning

Boris Nemtsov (February 2015): Former deputy PM and Putin critic; shot on a bridge near the Kremlin
Timur Kuashev (July 2014): Journalist and rights activist; apparently poisoned near his home
Valeriya Novodvorskaya (July 2014): Soviet dissident who had spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; supposedly died of toxic shock syndrome in a hospital in Moscow

Volodymyr Rybak (April 2014): Member of Horlivka city council; abducted, tortured and murdered by pro-Russian militia after trying to raise the Ukrainian flag on the council building

Alexander Pochinok (March 2014): Former minister who criticised Crimea invasion; died of a ‘heart attack’

Reshat Ametov (March 15, 2014): Crimean Tatar activist; abducted by unidentified men in military uniforms; body found in a forest with signs of torture

Compiled by Sarah Hurst, British journalist and author of @XSovietNews, Twitter account about Russia


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    How much of this stuff can be taken seriously? The author has merely relayed what the western media is mouthing to promote their agenda.
    8 months ago reply
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