“Everyone thinks that there are too many of them to be suicides and that it points to some deeper problem. It doesn’t seem like suicide to me, it could be related to the energy industry and various struggles within this industry,” comments expert on Russia and its energy industry Karel Svoboda from the Institute of International Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University.
High-ranking manager of Lukoil Maganov has died. The cause was a fall from a hospital window
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So far, the most recent is the death of the chairman of the board and vice president of the Lukoil oil concern Ravil Maganov, who died after falling from a hospital window. He was supposed to have been treated for a long-term oncological disease in Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital, other Russian sources state that he was in the hospital because of a heart attack.
The Russian police was clear after a few hours – suicide. According to this hypothesis, Maganov could have received bad news from the doctors and chose to end his life by jumping from the sixth floor of the hospital building. Tabloid website Baza reported that he may have fallen out of the window while smoking. In a statement, Lukoil said only that 67-year-old Maganov died “after a long and severe illness.”
Lukoil is the second largest oil producer in Russia after the state-owned company Rosneft. At the beginning of March, the company called for a quick end to the war in Ukraine, becoming the first large Russian company to oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And in 2019, Maganov himself received a lower award from President Putin for services to the homeland – the Order of Alexander Nevsky.
A number of other cases
Other high-ranking managers of Russian energy companies have also died since the beginning of the year under suspicious and not yet fully clarified circumstances.
At the end of January, the director of the transport department of Gazprom Invest, Leonid Shulman, started a series of dead managers. Although he left a farewell letter in which he complained of severe pain after the accident, his body was found with deep cuts. The Russian police also expressed doubts about the authenticity of the letter.
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Just one day after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on February 25, 61-year-old Alexander Yulyakov, the deputy director for corporate security and human resources of the largest Russian gas company Gazprom, was found hanged and badly beaten near St. Petersburg.
On February 28, Mikhail Watford, a gas and oil tycoon with Ukrainian roots, was found hanged in the garage of his residence in southern England.
In April, the former Vice President of Gazprombank Vladislav Avayev was found in similar circumstances together with his entire family. In his case, according to the Russian police, he first killed his wife and daughter and then committed suicide.
In April, the body of the former vice president of the second largest Russian gas company Novatek, Sergey Protosenja, was found in the garden of the villa in Lloret d Mar, Spain, where he spent the Easter holidays. According to the police, the millionaire hanged himself, the dead bodies of his wife and daughter were also found in the house, both with stab wounds, while Protasenja did not have a drop of their blood on him, and there were no fingerprints at the crime scene.
In May, another former high-ranking Lukoil manager, Alexander Subbotin, died. The cause of death was believed to be heart failure after he visited a shaman to provide him with an alternative treatment.
In July, Yuriy Voronov, CEO of Gazprom’s main supplier Astra Shipping, was found dead. He was lying by the pool at his house with a shot in the head.
And at the end of August, Ravil Maganov was added after falling from a hospital window.
In addition to the fact that the aforementioned were wealthy prominent figures of the Russian regime, according to Karel Svoboda from the Institute of International Studies of FSV UK, it is difficult to find links between the individual dead. “It is terribly difficult to determine what these people had in common personally. It is a mix of people – a former manager, a current manager, a high-ranking manager and middle management,” enumerates the expert on Russia.
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It is not even clear who would be interested in their deaths. “It can come from the highest levels, from the Kremlin, but also from various competitors or mafias.”
An expert on Russia also offers an explanation that behind the death of energy entrepreneurs and managers is the Russian regime’s fear of revealing the real state of the energy companies there. While Russian oil and gas companies are currently enjoying the high prices that fossil fuels have on the markets, on the other hand, news is already leaking that big problems await them soon.
“Europe is taking less gas, China cannot replace this shortfall, and other markets are closed or unavailable to the Russians. This is also why Russian oil and gas production is apparently declining. At the same time, Russia does not publish mining and export statistics at all, we learn about this indirectly. With all those dead managers, there could be a danger that they will reveal the real state of the oil and gas companies and thus also the real state of the Russian economy,” believes Svoboda.
And the Russia expert also has doubts about how individual deaths are investigated. “We are moving in Russia, so we can be sure that the results of the investigation will be useless. Again, only what the state wants to be investigated is investigated. It could be that this mix of people committed suspicious suicides in a relatively short period of time, but that would be an extremely large coincidence,” Svoboda describes.
At the same time, it is easiest for the Russian police to attribute a number of suspicious deaths to suicides. “They just say, ‘Suicide and that’s it.’ Because you don’t have to deal with it with anyone. In Russia, the commission of inquiry does not work by finding out what happened so that you can then believe the verdict. There will be doubts no matter what the police declares,” he adds.
Falling from the window
And Maganov’s death is also remarkable from another point of view. In the context of the last few years, this is another case where a person who is inconvenient for many dies in Russia under unclear circumstances after falling or jumping from a window. Even in these cases, the police most often closed the cases as suicides.
The case of journalist Ivan Safronov Sr. from Kommersant newspaper is known from the past, who died in 2007 after falling from the window on the third floor of the house where he lived. (On Monday, his son Ivan Safronov Jr. was sentenced to 22 years in prison for high treason for alleged cooperation with Czech intelligence)
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Recently, we can mention the publisher of the magazine Vadim Godlevsky, who in 2017 fell from the 14th floor of his luxury apartment building in Moscow. A year later, journalist Maxim Borodin fell out of the window of his house in Yekaterinburg. In the weeks before his death, he was investigating the involvement of Russian mercenaries with ties to the Kremlin in the fighting in Syria.
During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, three Russian doctors who criticized the conditions of the country’s healthcare system died or were injured within two weeks after falling from hospital windows. One of them, Alexander Šuljepov, for example, complained that he had to continue prescribing, even though he had contracted the disease himself.
In October of last year, the body of a dead Russian diplomat who, according to German intelligence, worked for the FSB secret service was found in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin. It was about Kirill Žal, the son of the head of the FSB administration for the protection of the constitutional establishment. He fell out of the window of a multi-storey building with apartments of Russian diplomats.
In December 2021, radical-nationalist journalist Yegor Prosvirnin died naked after falling from the window of his fifth-floor apartment. “We are working with two main investigative versions – suicide and an unfortunate accident,” investigators said shortly after the incident.
“Throwing someone out of a window is the least noticeable, because if you poison or shoot them, it’s too noticeable. Suicide by jumping out of a window is not unusual,” explains Karel Svoboda, an expert on Russia.
And he adds that, for example, the death of former Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk is still being resolved today. “Conjectures have been going on for decades and are still going on. Although we can quite clearly lean towards some version, the investigation went on for a really long time,” he concludes.
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