What Is the Secret of the Mysterious Deaths Among the Russian Energy Oligarchs?

Murad Jandali | 2 years ago




The deaths of many top Russian businessmen in unusual circumstances in recent months, since the beginning of this year, still raise questions about the connection of these incidents with the fierce competition between energy companies after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the return to the mafia's methods to dislodge competitors.

Meanwhile, the Russian allegations about the death of these Russian businessmen opened the door to speculation about the nature of their death or the fact of their suicide, especially as some of them were among the most vocal critics of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Fierce Competition

The continuing mysterious deaths since the beginning of the year of twelve prominent Russian businessmen, ten of whom work in the energy sector, with oil and gas companies making huge profits despite Western sanctions, have raised questions about the credibility of their deaths or suicides.

The latest in a series of mysterious deaths occurred on September 10, 2022, when Ivan Pechorin, the Aviation Director for Russia's the Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV), died after falling from a ship while drunk, and drowning in the Pacific Ocean after all attempts to rescue him failed.

The death of Pechorin, 39, came days after his participation in the Russian East Economic Forum hosted by Russky Island, where he presented during the forum sessions a strategic plan to develop the region and overcome Western sanctions, according to the local website VL.ru.

This is not the first case of sudden or mysterious death in a government company. In February of this year, the General Director of KRDV, Igor Nosov, died of a stroke at the age of 43, Newsweek reported.

Nosov was appointed by a decision of President Vladimir Putin in August 2021 for this task, after he had previously held the position of Deputy Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region (east of Moscow).

It is noteworthy that it is known that the aforementioned KRDV company overlaps its field of work with the Russian energy companies, which are competing recently to achieve greater gains from the exploitation of oil and gas fields in the Arctic shelf of Russia and the continental shelf in the Far East of Russia, especially with the increase in opportunities to exploit these fields due to changes the climate.

Among the biggest contenders for oil in that region is the state-owned Rosneft Corporation and the country's largest oil company, headed by Igor Sechin, a close associate of President Putin.

In addition to Lukoil, the second largest oil company, which is a private company founded by Vagit Alekperov in the nineties of the last century, who was forced to resign from it after the war on Ukraine due to Western sanctions imposed on him.

Competing for the region's gas fortunes is the state-owned Gazprom, headed by Alexey Miller, one of Putin's friends and co-worker in the 1990s with the mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak, considered by many to be Putin's godfather by opening the door to him in his administration at the time.

On the competition line is also the private company Novatek, owned by Leonid Mikhelson, Putin's friend and partner in playing hockey, a company that began exploiting gas fields in the Arctic, opened factories for the production of liquefied gas, and began to export it years ago.

It is noteworthy that the last two companies also lost several first-class leaders in a series of mysterious deaths in recent months.

In turn, the expert on Russian affairs, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hamza, explained in a statement to Al-Estiklal that: “Indeed, the deaths of many prominent Russian energy businessmen in extraordinary circumstances, some inside Russia, some outside it, and some died with their families, call into question that it is unnatural and caused by conflicts and settlement of accounts between businessmen, oligarchs and energy companies.”

“The conditions of the siege and Western sanctions on Russian energy companies have complicated the affairs of these companies, in addition to the existence of conflicts over the distribution of wealth and disagreements over positions within the companies themselves, which are regional reasons that may be behind the killing of these businessmen,” he added.

Dr. Al-Hamza also pointed out that “these incidents, such as: the removal of prominent businessmen in energy companies, remind us of the 1990s, when killing and assassinations were taking place between competitors to loot and steal Russia’s wealth; now it seems that this is happening again and the imacts of the Ukrainian war have increased the pace.”


Mysterious Deaths

At the beginning of September, the head of Lukoil, Ravil Maganov, 67, was killed after a mysterious fall from the sixth floor of a hospital where he was being treated for a heart condition.

TASS news agency quoted a security source as saying that Maganov had committed suicide after taking antidepressant drugs, while Reuters quoted two people who knew Maganov well as saying that it was unlikely that he had committed suicide.

Maganov has worked for Lukoil since 1993, became chairman of its board of directors in 2020, and received a medal from Russian President Vladimir Putin, while his brother Neil is the head of the Russian oil-producing company TATN.MM.

Last May, Lukoil lost its former chief executive, Alexander Subbotin, who was also found dead in the basement of his private palace near Moscow.

TASS news agency reported, at the time, that Subbotin lost consciousness as a result of a heart attack, while the police opened a criminal investigation into the cause of his death.

Several Russian media outlets indicated that Subbotin died under mysterious circumstances, and died of a heart attack after he sought alternative treatment from a charlatan while he was in a severe state of alcohol abuse and drug poisoning the day before his death.

At the beginning of last March, the board of directors of Lukoil had called for an end to the Russian war on Ukraine as soon as possible.

The oil company, in a statement at the time, also expressed its sympathy for the victims of this tragedy.

It is noteworthy that the series of mysterious deaths among the Russian oligarchs working in the energy and transport sectors began before the Russian war on Ukraine.

On January 30, Leonid Shulman (60 years old), head of transportation at Gazprom Invest, a subsidiary of the Gazprom group, was found dead in his palace in the village of Leninsky (near Saint Petersburg).

According to Russian state media, the dead left a suicide note in which he said that he was suffering from unbearable pain in his leg, which was broken while celebrating the New Year in his palace.

In the same Leninsky village, less than a month later, on February 25, another senior Russian official in the same company died, as Alexander Tyulakov, 61, an Executive at Gazprom, was found dead in his garage.

Neither Gazprom nor the region's investigative committee made any public statements about the death, which the Novaya Gazeta newspaper described as an apparent suicide, while reports stated that he was severely beaten the night before his death.

A few months later, not far from the place of death of the two former Russian businessmen, the body of Yuri Voronov, 61, the general manager of Astra-Shipping, which worked on the implementation of contracts for Gazprom in the Arctic, was found on July 4 last.

Voronov was found shot in the head and body with a gun next to him in the swimming pool of his private palace in a small village in Russia’s Leningrad province, according to the Russian media group RBC.

According to the wife of the Russian businessman, he went to Leningrad on July 1, and before leaving he was in a dispute with business partners over the loss of money.

Two other Russian businessmen from the Gazprom group were also killed in two separate incidents, one day apart, in which the wives and daughters of the officials were also killed.

“On April 18, Vladislav Avayev, 51, the former deputy head of Gazprombank, the financial arm of the Russian gas giant and one of the country's largest banks, was found dead with his wife and daughter in his apartment in Moscow,” the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.

According to police investigations, the financial officer of Gazprom killed his wife, Elena, and his 13-year-old daughter, Maria, and then committed suicide, while news agencies reported that the incident was out of jealousy, claiming that his wife was pregnant from his private driver.

On April 19, Russian media reported that Sergey Protosenya, 55, who until his death held the position of vice-president of Novatek, the largest producer of liquefied natural gas in Russia, was found dead with his wife and daughter in their house in Spain.

At the time, the Catalan regional police found the Russian businessman hanged in the garden of his house, while his wife and 18-year-old daughter died as a result of stab wounds inside the house.


Doubts and Questions

Among the incidents that also raised questions, the 66-year-old billionaire Mikhail Watford, who built his fortune from trading in oil and gas in Russia and Ukraine, was found dead in the British capital, London, on February 28.

According to British police, Watford's body was found hanged, a few days after former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sanctions against Russian businessmen, he is among them.

The incident aroused suspicion among the British police, especially since the UK witnessed cases of assassination and poisoning of several Russian oligarchs and intelligence agents in the past two decades.


Away from the oil sector, on March 24, billionaire Vasily Melnikov, who was head of the giant medical supplies company MedStorm, was found dead with his wife and two young sons in their luxury apartment in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region.

Also died in April, Andrey Krukovsky, 37, who until his death worked as director of a tourist ski resort near Sochi, where Putin spends his winter holidays and invites his guests to ski there, died.

Kommersant newspaper reported that Krukovsky died after falling off a high rock during a walk.

As reported by Euronews on September 14, 2022, all the Russian oligarchs killed in recent months have close joint ties with the Kremlin, enormous wealth, a connection to the Russian energy sector, and an anti-war stance in Ukraine.

This raised the suspicions of international investigators, who began to believe that these deaths might in fact have been suicides or assassinations because of their position on the Kremlin's aggression against Ukraine or their connection to corruption in Russian energy companies.

According to observers, the death of senior Russian energy executives in mysterious and similar circumstances indicates a conflict between Kremlin insiders and Putin's inner circle, who manage a vast fortune in oil and gas companies.

It is also not excluded that these accidents are part of the conflicts between the major Russian energy companies, in light of expectations that their exports will decline and they will compete to export their production to China and Asia.

This also coincides with the approaching date of entering the sixth European Union sanctions package regarding the ban on the import of Russian oil as of next December, the decline in gas exports to Europe and the world, and the frantic search by Russian companies for new markets to replace the European market.