war in ukraine

Prominent Russians Keep Dying Under Mysterious Circumstances

Vladimir Putin with Lukoil chief Ravil Maganov, who died earlier this month. Photo: Mikhail Klimenntiev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Anatoly Gerashchenko, the former head of the Moscow Aviation Institute, was working at the university this week as an adviser when he “died in an accident,” according to the group’s press release. The Russian newspaper Izvestia reports that the 70-year-old aviation expert “fell from a great height, flying down several flights of stairs” to his death.

Gerashchenko is far from the only prominent Russian figure to lose their life in strange circumstances over the last few weeks. On September 14, the 68-year-old editor of the pro-Kremlin state newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vladimir Sungorkin, died while on a business trip in Far East Russia. According to a colleague who wrote about the incident, Sungorkin “began to suffocate” while driving; a doctor later determined that he had suffered a stroke. The day before Sungorkin’s death, Ivan Pechorin, the 39-year-old managing director of the state-run Far East and Arctic Development Corporation, also died in the Far East, falling off a moving boat in the Sea of Japan.

The most notable death in the ranks of Russia’s business elite came on September 1, when Ravil Maganov, the 67-year-old chairman of Lukoil, died after falling out the window of the sixth floor of Moscow Central Clinical Hospital. The Russian state news agency TASS reported the death of the leader of the country’s second-largest oil-and-gas firm as a suicide.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, around 15 Russian oil executives and bankers have died in at least moderately suspicious circumstances. In August, the Latvian Putin critic and banker Dan Rapoport fell to his death from his apartment in Washington, D.C. — though police say there’s no suspicion of foul play. Billionaire and former Lukoil executive Alexander Subbotin was found dead in a shaman’s home north of Moscow in May. Former Gazprombank VP Vladislav Avayev was found dead of a gunshot wound in April, along with his wife and 13-year-old daughter. Also in April, the former executive of Novatek, Sergey Protosenya, was found hanged from a handrail in the courtyard of an apartment in Spain, with his wife and daughter dead inside. The idea that he could have been responsible for the deaths, the company said, bears “no relation to reality.”

To date, there’s no clear theory for the bizarre string of deaths, though some of those on the list have expressed criticisms of Putin or the war, and prominent dissenters of his regime have long faced mortal consequences. Rapoport was an outspoken supporter of the jailed critic Alexei Navalny and frequently denounced the invasion of Ukraine on social media. Though the late Lukoil executives do not have a history of criticizing the state in public, in March, the Lukoil board called “for the soonest termination of the armed conflict” in Ukraine and that they “express our sincere empathy for all victims.” The list is not packed with dissidents, however. Pechorin was reportedly picked by Putin himself to run the Far East oil-development firm, and Sungorkin led a paper that was staunchly pro-Kremlin.

Prominent Russians Keep Dying Under Mysterious Circumstances