The leader of the mutinous mercenary group who likely died in a plane crash on Wednesday is just one of many opponents of Putin who appeared to have suffered mysterious deaths.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, likely died after a plane carrying him and nine other passengers crashed near Moscow on Wednesday. Early U.S. intelligence assessments have deemed Prigozhin’s likely death “intentional,” which would make him the latest figure who crossed Vladimir Putin to suffer a deadly fate.
“The apparent cold-blooded murder of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and his top leadership team in a plane crash is only the most recent mafia-style hit by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin,” Victoria Coates, Vice President of the Kathryn and
“For more than two decades Putin has made a regular practice of publicly and violently eliminating those who displease him to keep his other henchmen in line — then coyly denying all responsibility while the glaring truth is out there for all to see,” Coates said. (RELATED: FLASHBACK: Putin Said ‘Betrayal’ Is ‘Impossible To Forgive’ In 2018 Documentary)
Such an example is one of Putin’s earlier dissidents, Anna Potlitkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006, according to the New York Times. Politkovskaya was a Russian investigative journalist who was highly critical of Putin and gained international notoriety for her criticism of the Kremlin’s corruption and human rights abuses.
Potlitkovskaya was working on a major story about Kremlin-sponsored human rights abuses and torture in Chechnya when she was shot dead in the lobby of her apartment building in Moscow in October 2006, according to the NYT. Potlitkovskaya’s story was set to be published the day after she was killed.
Four men from Chechnya and a former police officer were charged with Potlitkovskaya’s murder in 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported. The men were hired as contract killers for a $150,000 bounty, but the identity of the person or organization who initially hired them was never determined.
Following Potlitkovskaya’s murder, Putin rebuked accusations that he or the Kremlin had any involvement, according to the LA Times.
“Death in itself is more damaging to the current authorities both in Russia and Chechen Republic … than her activities,” Putin said.
Potlitkovskaya’s murder was later investigated by Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB intelligence officer who would later suffer a mysterious death himself, according to The Associated Press. After defecting from his intelligence role and fleeing to Britain in 2000, Litvinenko became a vocal critic of Putin and began exposing corrupt practices and organized crime within Russian intelligence.
Litvinenko became violently sick in 2006 after drinking tea at a London hotel with two other Russians and was hospitalized for weeks before dying in late November of that year, according to the AP. An investigation would later discover that Litvinenko’s tea was spiked with radioactive polonium-210.
While lying on his deathbed in a London hospital, Litvinenko claimed that Putin was responsible “for everything that happened to him,” the BBC reported.
A 2016 investigation by British Intelligence found that Russian intelligence agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun were responsible for poisoning Litvinenko, noting that Putin “probably approved” the assassination, according to the AP. The Kremlin refused to extradite the two agents, citing the country’s constitution, which does not allow the extradition of Russian citizens, the BBC reported.
Additionally, Boris Nemstov, a Russian politician, former deputy prime minister and infamous critic of Putin, was found dead in 2015 after being shot four times in the back near the Kremlin, according to Reuters. Nemstov was vocally opposed to Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine at the time and was quoted as saying he feared Putin wanted him killed for his views.
Putin denied any role in Nemstov’s death, instead taking it upon himself to lead the investigation into his “brutal murder,” Reuters reported. Five men were eventually charged with Nemstov’s murder in 2017, but his political allies said that Putin’s investigation had been a cover.
“That a leader of the opposition could be shot beside the walls of the Kremlin is beyond imagination,” said Mikhail Kasyanov, a Russian opposition leader and fellow Nemstov ally, according to Reuters. “There can be only one version: that he was shot for telling the truth.”
Ravil Maganov, an oil executive and chair of Russia’s largest private company Lukoil, suffered a mysterious death in September 2022, months after the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the NYT reported. Lukoil released a statement less than a month after the war began, calling on Russia to commit to a “ceasefire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy.”
In late 2022, Maganov died after falling out of a sixth-floor hospital window, the NYT reported. Russian media called Maganov’s death a suicide, and reported he was initially admitted to the hospital for a heart attack and had been taking antidepressants. (RELATED: Trump Says He Would Directly Tell Putin, ‘Honorable’ Zelenskyy To End War)
A number of Maganov’s acquaintances anonymously spoke to Reuters and said they did not believe he would have killed himself. Lukoil issued a now-deleted statement shortly after Maganov’s death that he had “passed away following a serious illness,” but did not elaborate further, according to the NYT.
Another Lukoil executive, Alexander Subbotin, also died in 2022 months before Maganov’s supposed suicide, according to CBS News. Subbotin was found dead in the house of a shaman after reportedly taking medicinal toad poison for a hangover and promptly suffering a heart attack.
The shaman did not call an ambulance, instead choosing to give Subbotin heart medication and let him sleep in the basement, where he was later discovered and pronounced dead, CBS News reported.
The likely death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s most recent political foe, is currently under investigation. The Kremlin called allegations of involvement in Prigozhin’s alleged death “a complete lie.”
Putin appeared to eulogize the late Wagner leader on Thursday, calling him a “talented person” who had “made serious mistakes.”
“Prigozhin wasn’t the first, and he certainly won’t be the last, bad man to come to a bad end because they worked for Putin,” Coates told the DCNF. “And it’s worth noting that as a former KGB agent, Putin himself is simply continuing the grimly ruthless authoritarianism of the old Soviet Union to maintain his grip on power.”
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