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DW: Mysterious “suicides” of Russian oligarchs


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On April 19, at the resort of Lloret de Mar, Spanish police received a phone call from Fedor Protosenia, the son of Russian oligarch Sergei Protosenya, who maintains a country mansion in the area. Fedor claims that he is in France and for hours he tried to contact his mother, but she did not pick up the phone. When police arrive at Protosenia’s cottage, they find three bodies, of Fedor’s parents and sister. Their first thought was that Sergei Protosenya killed the two women and then hanged himself in the garden of the house. However, they are beginning to doubt whether this is really the case.

A day before, in Moscow, at a distance of 3,000 kilometers, a similar tragic incident is recorded: police find dead in their luxury apartment in Moscow Vladislav Avayev, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter. According to the state-run Russian news agency TASS, Avayev was holding a pistol in his hand. It is alleged that he shot and killed his wife first and then his daughter, who later committed suicide.

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Oligarchs or executives of the energy sector

Just 24 hours separate the two incidents that look so similar to each other. Both are big names in the energy industry with fortunes of billions. Protosenia has been deputy director of the gas company Novathek, and Avagev was formerly vice-president of Gazprombank. This is not the first time in recent months that industry leaders have been mysteriously killed.

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Already in late January, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Leonid Sulman, a senior Gazprom manager, had committed suicide, and on February 25, Alexander Tulakov, a former executive, was hanged at his home in St. Petersburg. Three days later, 60-year-old Michael Watford, originally from Ukraine, died in the garage of his home in Surrey, England. Finally, on March 24, billionaire Vassily Melnikov, along with his wife and two sons, was found dead in his luxurious mansion in Nisny Novgorod, Russia. Melnikov headed MedStom, one of the largest companies in the medical equipment industry.

Finally, the case of 37-year-old Andrei Krukowski raises questions. He was the director of the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort near Sochi on the Black Sea. Russian President Vladimir Putin often visited the region, inviting foreign ski leaders. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, on May 2, Krukowski lost his life while hiking, falling into the void from a rock.

The dangerous life of the oligarch in Russia

When seven rich Russians find tragic death within three months, many questions arise. In recent days, many Russian media outlets have been wondering if there are other reasons behind the “suicides”. Some speculate that a Kremlin involvement is not ruled out. This would not be the first time that Kremlin critics have been silenced. In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was poisoned at the Tomsk airport with the neurotoxic substance Novitsok, while two years ago, the colonel was poisoned. of the Russian secret services Sergei Skripal. In 2006, former agent Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated in London with the radioactive isotope polonium 210. In 2017, the US newspaper USA Today published an investigation, according to which at least 38 oligarchs of the time had died or were declared “missing” for years. .

It is noted, however, that none of the oligarchs who lost their lives this year had been heard to criticize the war in Ukraine in any way, nor were they on the Western sanctions lists. The Warsaw Institute, a Polish think tank specializing in security policy and in Russia, notes in a recent report that not only the Russian police but also the Russian police had appeared at the crime scene after the “suicides” on Russian soil. Gazprom’s own security service. “It is not ruled out,” the report notes, “that some high-ranking Kremlin officials are trying to erase traces of financial irregularities in state-owned enterprises.”

However, there is no evidence for all these suspicions. In the case of Protosenia, the Spanish police still consider a “family drama” to be the predominant version, an explanation which, however, is rejected by Fedor Protosenia. “My father was not a murderer,” he told British media.


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