2022: The Year of the Russian Oligarch

High-profile Russian businessmen have been making a lot of headlines in 2022. With Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, many oligarchs were hit by Western sanctions, and some lost their superyachts, jets, and football teams. Other oligarchs, though, were a lot less fortunate.

As of this writing, at least 26 Russian businessmen have died under suspicious circumstances since the end of January. There is no proof that these deaths are in any way connected or are part of an ongoing conspiracy (especially since the timings mostly coincide with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine). It really is just a very curious set of 26 coincidences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been suspected of silencing his critics. In 2017, USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst compiled a list of high-profile Russians who had died under suspicious circumstances or were victims of unsolved murders since the beginning of 2014 and they were able to put together 38 names.

The list included “10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out,” as well as “13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

“Twelve were shot, stabbed or beaten to death. Six were blown up. Ten died allegedly of natural causes. One died of mysterious head injuries, one reportedly slipped and hit his head in a public bath, one was hanged in his jail cell, and one died after drinking coffee. The cause of six deaths was reported as unknown.”

The 2022 list shows an accelerated number of sudden deaths, with fewer shootings and more strange accidents.

Eight of the deaths were caused by some sort of fall — from a building, off a cliff, a flight of stairs, and from a moving luxury yacht. Two were “murder-suicides” that occurred within a 48-hour window. Four were from a stroke or a heart attack, including one that was allegedly induced by a shamanic hangover cure. And there were also three with no official cause of death identified.

There are quite a few notable overlapping patterns. 

  • Many of the businessmen in the list are connected to Russia’s oil and energy industry — e.g. holding key positions past or present in state-owned energy giant Gazprom, or the country’s second-largest private oil company, Lukoil, as well as the country’s largest independent gas company Novatek. 
  • At least two (three, if you count Sungorkin) are connected to the Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV). This is Putin’s Vladivostok-based project that aims to develop the country’s rich energy and mining resources in the Arctic region. The project has become an important focus for Putin since the limitations of the Western sanctions hit the country.
  • There were only a couple of incidents over the summer, but as Ukraine’s counteroffensive recaptured territory in Eastern Ukraine in September, oligarchs started dying again.
  • Three crypto billionaires (Mushegian, Kullander, and Taran) died within weeks of each other shortly after the collapse of FTX.
  • Two of the most recent incidents involve military-adjacent businessmen. Buzakov is the Director General of the company that is currently building Kilo-class diesel-powered submarines that can be used to launch Kalibr cruise missiles. Maslov, who was formerly the commander in chief of Russia’s ground forces, was working for the world’s biggest tank manufacturer – and was to meet Putin the day before he died, before Putin cancelled the meeting at the last minute.
  • Many on the list, including Antov, are known to have at some point criticized Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Earlier in the year, the Polish think tank the Warsaw Institute speculated that the Gazprom-related deaths could be the result of senior Kremlin-linked individuals “covering up traces of fraud in state-run companies.”

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs, offers a more updated conjecture: these are “Russians who knew too much about Kremlin’s finances and military secrets and from Putin’s circle.”

Here’s a breakdown of the 2022 list so far.

1Leonid Shulman60Director of Transport at Gazprom30 JanSuicide; found with deep cuts on his wristsA suicide note was found next to his body
2Igor Nosov44CEO of the Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV) and former Deputy Governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast8 FebSuffered a strokeBoss of Igor Pechorin
3Alexander Tyulakov61Deputy General Director of the Unified Settlement Center at Gazprom25 FebFound hanging in a garage near St. PetersburgA suicide note was found on his body
4Mikhail Watford66Businessman (made his fortune in oil and gas, later ran ultra-prime property development company High Life)28 Feb“Unexplained circumstances”; some reports say he was found hanging in his garageBritish authorities say that there was no evidence of a crime
5Vasily Melnikov43CEO and owner of MedStorm23 MarStabbed to death in his homeHis wife and two sons were also found dead beside him
6Vladislav Avayev51Former Vice President of Gazprombank18 AprMurder-suicide; gunshotHis wife and 13-year-old daughter were found dead beside him
7Sergey Protosenya55Former Deputy Chairman of Novatek19 AprMurder-suicide; found hanging in an apartment in Lloret de Mar, SpainHis wife and daughter were found dead in their beds with blunt axe wounds and stab wounds
8Andrei Krukovsky37General Director of the Estosadok Krasnaya Polyana, a ski resort owned by Gazprom1 MayFell off a cliff while hiking to Achipse FortressReportedly had extensive mountaineering experience
9Alexander Subbotin43Board member of Lukoil8 MayA drug-induced heart attack during a shamanic ritualHis death comes just months after Lukoil called for a quick end to the war between Russia and Ukraine.
10Yuri Voronov61CEO of Astra Shipping, a subcontractor of Gazprom4 JulGunshot wounds to the headHis wife has reportedly told investigators that he believed he was being swindled out of “a lot of money” by “dishonorable” contractors and partners.
11Dan Rapoport52Businessman14 AugFell from his apartment building in Washington DCIt was reported that he left Russia in large part due to his support for Russia’s democratic opposition, particularly his support for Alexei Navalny.
12Ravil Maganov67Chairman of Lukoil1 SepFell out of a window in the hospital where he was being treated for heart problems and depressionTass news agency quoted sources saying he had fallen out of a sixth-floor window early on Thursday morning, adding later that he had taken his own life.
13Ivan Pechorin39Director of Aviation of the Russian Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV)10 SepDrowned at Cape Ignatyev, Vladivostok after falling from his boatKRDV is President Vladimir Putin’s project for developing the country’s Arctic region’s rich energy and mining resources.
14Vladimir Sungorkin68Editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda14 SepSuffered a strokeSungorkin was on a trip to “collect material for a book about the great pioneer of the Far East, Vladimir Arseniev” when he died
15Anatoly Gerashchenko73Former Head of Moscow Aviation Institute21 SepFell down the stairs at MAIMAI has close connections with the Russian defense ministry, conducting aerospace research and developing technology like drones.
16Pavel Pchelnikov52Director of Digital Logistics, a Russian Railways subsidiary28 SepSuicide; gunshot woundCalled himself “the most experienced PR manager in Russian Railways company”
17Nikolai Mushegian29Co-founder of the crypto lending platform MakerDAO29 OctDrowned in Condado Beach, San Jan, Puerto RicoHad mental problems; was tweeting frantically about the CIA and Mossad shortly before his death
18Viktor Cherkesov72Former chief of the now-defunct State Drug Control Service (FKSN) and presidential envoy to the Northwestern Federal District8 NovNo cause of death was provided, other than it followed a “serious illness”He was Putin’s former KGB mentor and longtime ally but later became an outspoken critic.
19Tiantian Kullander30Co-founder of Hong Kong-based Amber Group, a crypto trading platform23 NovDied in his sleep; no other details have been providedAt the time of his death, Amber Group was about to land a significant investment and was reportedly in the process of raising around US$100 million.
20Vyacheslav Taran53Co-founder of Libertex, a foreign exchange market29 NovHelicopter crashThe only other passenger of the chopper canceled at the last minute; Life.ru, a pro-Kremlin news outlet, reported that Taran had “enemies in Russia.”
21Grigory Kochenov41Creative director of Agima, an IT company7 DecFell from the balcony of his apartment during a police searchOften spoke out against Russia’s war in Ukraine.
22Dmitry Zelenov50Co-founder of Don-Stroy, a construction company9 DecFell ill then fell down the stairs, died in the emergency room without regaining consciousnessBefore his company fell under the control of Russia’s state-owned bank VTB during the 2008 financial crisis, his net worth was estimated at $1.4 billion, which put him on the Forbes list of Russian billionaires.
23Vladimir Bidenov61Business associate and travel companion of Pavel Antov22 DecHeart attackHas never had any heart problems prior to his death
24Pavel Antov65Founder of Vladimir Standard, a meat processing company, and deputy (member) of the Legislative Assembly of Vladimir Oblast24 DecFell from his hotel room windowRichest MP in the Duma; recently criticized Putin’s war in Ukraine
25Alexander Buzakov67Director General of the Admiralty Shipyards, which specializes in building non-nuclear submarines24 DecNo cause of death was providedTass news agency said the shipyard is building improved Kilo-class diesel-powered submarines capable of launching Kalibr cruise missiles.
26Aleksey Maslov69Former commander in chief of Russia’s ground forces; special representative for the military corporation Uralvagonzavod, the world’s biggest tank manufacturer25 DecNo cause of death was provided; died in N.N. Burdenko Main Military Clinical HospitalHis death comes a day after President Vladimir Putin abruptly canceled a visit to the company where he worked

Information for this story was found via the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Views expressed within are solely that of the author. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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