Suspicious Russian oligarch deaths match Kremlin playbook: sources

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Suspicious Russian oligarch deaths match Kremlin playbook: sources

On April 19, Spanish police walked into what looked like the aftermath of a horror movie when they did a welfare check on Russian multi-millionaire Sergei Protosenya and his family.

Inside the luxe rental villa on the Costa Brava, cops found Protosenya’s 53-year-old wife, Natalya, and 18-year-old daughter, Maria — whom he called his “princess.” Protosenya, the former deputy chairman of the natural gas company Novatek, was found hanged in the garden, a blood-stained axe and a knife by his side.

Protosenya left no suicide note. There were no bloodstains on his body, El Punta Vui reported.

The day before and some 2,000 miles away, Vladislav Avayev, a former Kremlin official and the former vice-president of Gazprombank, was found dead of a gunshot wound in his Moscow apartment. Russia’s state-run Tass news agency reported. A pistol was is his hand. His wife, Yelena, and daughter, Maria, 13, had also been fatally wounded.

Neither of the men, who were worth more than $400 million each, were on any international sanctions list in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Russian news outlets, as well as Spanish media, speculated that both tragedies were murder-suicides.

But experts outside Russia claim say they were assassinations made to look like domestic violence. Someone in Russia is doing some aggressive housekeeping, they say — especially among executives in the gas industry.

The deaths of Sergei Protosenya and his family have been painted as a murder-suicide. But some people, including experts, aren't so sure.
The deaths of Sergei Protosenya and his family have been painted as a murder-suicide. But some people, including experts, aren’t so sure.
social media/east2west news

“There is a cleaning out going on and it’s difficult to pin down any one person down who’s doing it,” Anders Aslund, author of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism” and a Swedish economist. “But this looks like Kremlin murders to me.”

Aslund told The Post that he learned from Russian sources that Russian intelligence drew up two lists containing the names of executives in that country’s energy industry, in late 2021 and at the start of March. Aslund said the Kremlin suspected that someone in the industry was leaking information about the financing of secret operations being undertaken by Russian foreign intelligence — including the invasion of Ukraine.

“The list was presented to Putin by the FSB [the Federal Security Service] and Putin approved the liquidation of everyone on the list without even looking at it,” Aslund alleged. “Putin finances a lot of his operations through Gazprom and Gazprombank, and the executives who work there know all about this secret financing. The gas sector is the most corrupt sector in Russia.”

Seven Russian oligarchs have been found dead suddenly — some under suspicious circumstances — so far this year.

Vladislav Avayev, a former Kremlin official and the former vice-president of Gazprombank, was found dead of a gunshot wound in his Moscow apartment. His family was also killed.
Vladislav Avayev, a former Kremlin official and the former vice president of Gazprombank, was found dead of a gunshot wound in his Moscow apartment. His family was also killed.
social media/ EAST2WEST NEWS

Many believe that some or all of the recent “murder-suicides” of energy executives as well as earlier poisonings of high-profile Russians like former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who drank a green tea secretly mixed with polonium in London in 2006 and died three weeks later, or Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, or Alexei Navalny (all of whom survived) were ordered by the Kremlin — specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin.

If Putin is behind the deaths, said the author of a new book, “The Dancer and the Devil: Stalin, Pavlova, and the Road to the Great Pandemic,” he is only following Joseph Stalin’s playbook.

“What we’re seeing now are classic Soviet-era tactics,” John O’Neill told The Post. “Stalin had to devise a way of disposing of people discreetly. And he figured out a way back in 1921 when he created Laboratory One, which was basically a bioweapon lab with a tunnel connecting it directly to the headquarters of the KGB.”

Author John O'Neil says we're now seeing "classic Soviet-era tactics."
Author John O’Neil says we’re now seeing “classic Soviet-era tactics.”

Scientists at Laboratory One figured out that anthrax, curare and potassium could simulate pneumonia and heart attacks, O’Neill said. Among the at least 20 to 30 million Russians who Stalin likely had killed was esteemed writer Maxim Gorky who some scholars believe was poisoned to death in 1936.

“In 1941 [KGB defector] Walter Krivitsky said any fool can commit a murder but it takes a true artist to stage a natural death or suicide,” O’Neill said.

Krivitsky, unfortunately, met the same kind of death he knew so much about, O’Neill said.

“He supposedly jumped out of a window in Washington, DC, and he left a suicide note,” O’Neill said. “But the suicide note was all off. It listed the wrong relatives. [His death] was recorded as a suicide but everyone who’s studied it says it was a staged suicide.”

Staged suicides have gotten much more sophisticated since Stalin’s time, said Aslund.

Former Gazprom executive Alexander Tyulyakov, 61, was found hanged in his home near St. Petersburg.
Former Gazprom executive Alexander Tyulyakov, 61, was found hanged in his home near St. Petersburg.
Bielorussi di Roma/Belarusians in Rome/Twitter

“There’s big money involved in all these killings,” Aslund said. “Stalin could only dream of such big money.”

Russia’s fearsome Unit 29155, the black-ops outfit that’s part of Russia’s vast military intelligence agency, the GRU, are believed to be the hidden hands behind the staged murder-suicides and poisonings, O’Neill said.

“It’s the whole Mafia deal of delivering a message,” O’Neill said of Unit 29155’s tactics. “They want people to know they’ll murder them. It’s a lesson — the same as the mob guy who wipes out the barber in Brooklyn and sends flowers to the funeral. Putin will probably send flowers to the funerals of these two oligarchs.”

If O’Neill’s claims are true, Putin must have a florist on speed dial.

Leonid Shulman, a 60-year-old top executive at Gazprom, was found dead by alleged suicide.
Leonid Shulman, a 60-year-old top executive at Gazprom, was found dead by alleged suicide.
Bielorussi di Roma/Belarusians in Rome/ Twitter

In addition to the most recent “murder-suicides” of Protosenya and Avayev, Leonid Shulman, a 60-year-old top executive at Gazprom, was found dead by apparent suicide on Jan. 30, a month before Russia invaded Ukraine. Shulman reportedly slit his wrists and left a note indicating he had killed himself.

On Feb. 25, the day after the Ukraine invasion, former Gazprom executive Alexander Tyulyakov, 61, was found hanged in his home near St. Petersburg. Police found a suicide note by his body as well.

Three days later, the Ukrainian-born Mikhail Watford, a gas and oil magnate, was discovered hanged in the garage of his Surrey, England, mansion. Authorities said the circumstances surrounding the tycoon’s death didn’t appear to be suspicious but they still called it “unexplained.”

Mikhail Watford, a gas and oil magnate, was discovered hanged in the garage of his Surrey, England, mansion.
Mikhail Watford, a gas and oil magnate, was discovered hanged in the garage of his Surrey, England, mansion.
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On March 24, billionaire Vasily Melnikov, who headed the medical supply giant MedStom, was found dead along with his wife, Galina, and their two young sons in their multi-million-dollar apartment in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.

The trio had all been stabbed to death and the murder knives were recovered at the crime scene, Newsweek reported. Russian authorities concluded Melnikov killed his family before stabbing himself to death.

“These aren’t dissidents,” said John Hardie, a Russia research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “They could be getting hit by contract killers or it could also be some sort of warring business clans.”

Billionaire Vasily Melnikov, who headed the medical supply giant MedStom, was found dead along with his wife, Galina, and their two young sons in their multi-million-dollar apartment in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.
Billionaire Vasily Melnikov, who headed the medical supply giant MedStom, was found dead along with his wife, Galina, and their two young sons in their multi-million-dollar apartment in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.
@nexta_tv/Twitter

A recent report by the Warsaw Institute think tank noted that Gazprom security officials showed up at the scene of all the recent Gazprom deaths, theorizing that “possibly some senior Kremlin-linked people are now covering up the traces of fraud in state-run companies.”

But even as Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra police investigators began looking the death of Sergei Protosenya and his family, Novatek issued a statement that appeared at odds with the murder-suicide theory playing out in Spanish media.

“[Protosenya] established himself as an outstanding person and a wonderful family man, a strong professional who made a considerable contribution to the formation and development of the Company. Unfortunately, speculations have emerged in the media about this topic, but we are convinced that these speculations bear no relation to reality,” Novatek said in a statement.

"The Dancer and the Devil: Stalin, Pavlova, and the Road to the Great Pandemic"

Police were tipped off by Protosenya’s son, Fedor, who was staying at the family’s home in France over Easter break. Fedor couldn’t reach his loved ones by phone and grew suspicious, Spanish media reported.

He’s even more suspicious about how they died.

“He loved my mother and especially Maria, my sister,” Fedor said of his father. “She was his princess. He could never do anything to harm them. I don’t know what happened that night but I know that my father did not hurt them.”

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