It’s getting hard to keep track.
When Ivan Pechorin’s body was found washed onto shore near Vladivostok, Russia’s easternmost metropolis, it marked the 12th time this year that a wealthy Russian executive had died in strange circumstances.
“Strange circumstances” may be an understatement. Some of these men are said to have fallen out of windows. Some have died in reported murder-suicides. They have drowned or been drowned, hanged or been hanged — depending on who you believe. They have died in Russia, Western Europe and in Washington, D.C.
An oil executive magnate was found in his bathroom, his wrists slashed. The man who ran corporate security for the same company was found hanging in his garage. A shipping CEO was found in his swimming pool, a gunshot wound to his head.
Perhaps the oddest of these stories is the case of former oil executive Alexander Subbotin, who died in May. Russian state media said he had been found at the house of a shaman in the Moscow region, dead of a heart attack. According to Newsweek, he was seeking a hangover cure.
Pechorin, the man found this week near Vladivostok, was an executive involved in the energy industry in the Russian far east. No fewer than eight wealthy Russians with ties to the country’s critical energy sector have died this year.
Pechorin was the aviation director for Russia’s Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV). He was said by local authorities to have “fallen overboard” from a boat that was sailing near Cape Ignatyev in the Sea of Japan.
“On September 12, 2022, it became known about the tragic death of our colleague, Ivan Pechorin,” a statement from the company said.
The KRDV is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, part of his project for developing the rich energy and mining resources of the far east. Newsweek called Pechorin Putin’s “key man” in the region.
He wasn’t the first KRDV executive to die this year. In February, the company announced the death of its 43-year-old general director, Igor Nosov. It gave the cause of death as a stroke.
Friends or foes of Putin?
Nearly all the accounts have come shrouded in mystery or hard-to-believe detail and — not surprisingly — they have given rise to a slew of conspiratorial-sounding theories and amateur sleuthing:
Surely someone is killing all these people? Surely Putin, who has been known to order attacks on his enemies, must be somehow tied to the deaths? Has falling out of favor with the Kremlin led to falling inexplicably from windows?
Complicating matters for investigators — amateur or professional — is the fact that some of these men were friends of the Kremlin; some were critics. Their companies profited from good relations with the Kremlin — or suffered from Putin’s war. In some cases, both may have been true.
Perhaps the most suspicious of all these stories was a pair of deaths of executives from Lukoil, Russia’s largest private oil company. That’s because Lukoil took an early public stand against the war in Ukraine. In March, the company issued a statement calling for the “immediate cessation of the armed conflict.”
Earlier this month, Russian state media reported the death of Ravil Maganov, Lukoil chairman of the board. An initial company statement said Maganov had “passed away after a severe illness”; later accounts said his body had been found on the grounds of Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital and that Maganov had died in an accidental fall from a hospital window.
The second Lukoil official, Subbotin, was the man who had visited the shaman. Subbotin was found dead in the basement of a residence in a Moscow suburb belonging to Shaman Magua, who claimed to practice purification rites.
A pair of officials of the gas company Gazprom, which has not responded to a request for comment, are also among the dead; the suspicion here is that alleged corruption involving the company may have played a role.
While most have died in Russia, others have passed away abroad. Mikhail Watford, an oil and gas magnate, was found dead at his home in Surrey, England, four days after the war began. In April, the bodies of Russian oligarch Sergey Protosenya, 55, and two other family members were found dead in Lloret de Mar, in Spain. Protosenya was found hanging; his relatives had been stabbed. Family and friends told Catalan police he had been the victim of a “staged suicide.”
And on Aug. 14, Dan Rapoport, a Latvian American investment banker and outspoken Putin critic, was found dead in front of a luxury apartment building in Washington D.C. Police said they were not treating Rapoport’s death as suspicious, Politico reported, though the case remains under investigation.
What to make of it all? In some cases, suicide seems plausible, given that some of the individuals had lost enormous amounts of money due to the sanctions imposed after Putin’s invasion. Suspicion of foul play is of course understandable — given the nature of the deaths and the fact that Putin’s Kremlin has a history of ordering the killing of its enemies.
But beyond that, it is impossible to know where the truth lies. At least not yet. Perhaps the most one can say is that taking all the explanations at face value seems a stretch. And that will explain why so many people — the amateurs and professionals both — are doing no such thing.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.