Vladimir Putin’s former chief space engineer — and an accused embezzler — has died at age 74, the fourth person in the Russian president’s orbit to pass away within a week.
Vladimir Nesterov was the former general director of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and spearheaded the development of Russia’s “Angara” rocket.
The Russian state news agency Tass reported Nesterov’s death Wednesday, citing information confirmed by the Khrunichev Center’s press service.
Nesterov’s cause and manner of death have not been disclosed
Nesterov resigned as head of the rocket maker in August 2012 after two satellites exploded in a botched launch of Russia’s Proton-M rocket, but he continued working on the development of “Angara” in his capacity as chief engineer.
In 2014, after the “Angara” rocket’s successful launch, Nesterov left the agency. Around the same time, he was accused of large-scale fraud and embezzlement.
In Nov. 2020, Nesterov was criminally charged with misappropriating more than $72 million from the state.
According to investigations, back in 2006, a year into his tenure as the head of the Khrunichev Center, Nesterov allowed an American firm called Space Transport Inc to sell its shares in Russia, which his agency subsequently purchased at a higher price.
The case was still winding its way through the courts at the time of Nesterov’s death.
The rocket scientist’s demise comes just days after Alexander Buzakov, head of Russia’s storied Admiralty Shipyards that specialized in building non-nuclear submarines, died suddenly aged 65.
The Telegram channel “Redacted” reported that Buzakov had been healthy a day prior.
On Christmas Day, General Alexei Maslov, commander of Russian ground forces between 2004 and 2008, died suddenly at a military hospital. He was 69 years old.
The Telegram channel reported that “nothing had been heard about Maslov’s health problems” before he died.
After his retirement from the military, Maslov worked as a representative of the tank maker Uralvagonzavod, which Putin was scheduled to visit on Christmas Eve but scrapped the trip last minute without offering any explanation.
On Sunday, Russian sausage magnate and politician Pavel Antov died in a fall from a luxury hotel in Rayagada, India, where he was celebrating his 66th birthday.
Three days prior, Antov’s friend Vladimir Bidenov died at the same hotel after he was found lying unresponsive in his room littered with empty wine bottles.
Police Superintendent Vivekananda Sharma said Bidenov suffered a stroke and that his pal “was depressed after his death and he too died,” the BBC reported.
In July, Antov, who earned an estimated $156 million a year from his sausage-making enterprise, according to Forbes, criticized Russia’s missile attacks on Kyiv, calling them acts of “terror.”
He later issued a groveling apology, claiming that the message had been posted by someone else, and insisting that he supported the president and “shared his goals” of the invasion.
This year has seen a string of Russian tycoons and people with ties to Putin die under unexplained circumstances.