From January to May of this year, at least seven Russian oligarchs reportedly committed suicide, with three of them allegedly killing family members before taking their own lives.
But what is behind this trail of blood and death involving families and millionaire inheritances? Most of them were involved with the sectors of gas and oil.
The chronology of events begins in January.
At the end of that month, before the Russian troops invade UkraineLeonid Schulman, 60, a high-level manager at Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company, reportedly committed suicide.
A month later, on February 25, Alexander Tyulyakov, another former manager of the energy giant, was found dead at his home in St. Petersburg. Three days later, Ukrainian oil and gas tycoon Mikhail Watford was also found dead in the garage of his country estate in Surrey, southern England.
A day short of a month after the second death, on March 24, billionaire Vasily Melnikov, head of the giant medical supply company MedStom, was found dead alongside his wife, Galina, and their two young children in their apartment. billionaire in the Russian city of Ninzhni Novgorod.
In April, two more Russian businessmen died in apparent incidents of murder and suicide.
Vladislav Avayev, former vice president of Gazprombank, was found dead with his wife and 13-year-old daughter in their Moscow apartment on April 18. Russian state news agency Tass reported that he had a pistol in his hand. The authorities suspect that he first killed his wife and daughter and then himself.
Just a day later, on April 19, Sergey Protosenya, a former executive at gas producer Novatek, which is partially owned by Gazprom, was found dead north of Barcelona. The bodies of his wife and daughter were found nearby.
Police initially assume that millionaire Serguei Protosenya stabbed the two women to death and then hanged himself in the garden of the house. Protesenya, his wife and daughter were found at their home in Lloret de Mar, a Mediterranean resort near Barcelona.
And then there is the case of Andrei Krukovsky. The 37-year-old was the director of the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort, located near Sochi. Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to have repeatedly invited his friends to go skiing there. According to Russian newspaper Kommersant, Krukovsky was hiking on May 2 when he fell off a cliff.
Trail of blood and mysterious deaths
The mysterious deaths of the seven Russian millionaires in just three months under such dire circumstances have sparked all sorts of speculation.
Several media outlets assumed that the suicides could have been faked. Some of them even went so far as to suggest that the Kremlin, or even Putin himself, could be involved in some way.
In the Kremlin, in recent years, there have been several dramatic attempts to assassinate critics. In August 2020, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok while at Tomsk airport. Two years earlier, Sergei Skripal, former head of the Russian intelligence agency GRU, had been similarly poisoned. Both Navalny and Skripal survived.
As early as 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer who defected to the UK, was fatally poisoned with radioactive polonium in London. In 2017, the American newspaper USA Today published the results of an investigation that claims that at least 38 oligarchs died or disappeared over the course of three years.
However, what has caused intrigue in the 2022 incidents is that none of the dead oligarchs were known to have made critical public comments about the invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, none of them were on the international sanctions lists drawn up after the invasion.
In a recent social media post by the Warsaw Institut, a Polish think tank specializing in Russia and security policy, it claimed that both Russian police and Gazprom security services quickly launched investigations into the locations of the killings that took place in Russia.
“Possibly some people linked to the Kremlin are now trying to cover up traces of fraud in state-owned companies,” the institute says.