Why Have So Many Russian Tycoons Died Suspiciously Since War Began?

Why Have So Many Russian Tycoons Died Suspiciously Since War Began?

Yuri Voronov’s corpse was found floating in his country house swimming pool early last month. Drowning accidents occur every summer, all over the world. But Mr Voronov, a multi-millionaire Russian tycoon, met his watery end in a manner that was both highly unusual and, no doubt, alarming to some of his peers.

Mr Voronov, 61, did not drown. The normally crystal waters were clouded with blood, thanks to the close-range gunshot wound that killed him.

Then there is the case of Anatoly Chubais. A former deputy prime minister, he oversaw Russia’s transformation from a communist to a capitalist economy.

He was taken suddenly and seriously ill this week. Until recently President Putin’s special envoy on sustainable energy and climate change, Mr Chubais, 67, was the highest Kremlin official to resign his post and leave the country in protest at the invasion of Ukraine.

It is being reported that the economist is on life support, suffering from a rare neurological disorder. Other sources and opposition activists have speculated that he is the victim of attempted murder by poisoning, made to look like natural causes. An unnamed European intelligence agency is investigating.

Such suspicion is understandable. The Chubais case is only the latest in a series of mysterious illnesses and violent deaths — more than a dozen — to have befallen Russian businessmen, officials and their close families, since Putin’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine began and Western sanctions were imposed.

The deaths appear to have been caused either by suicide or domestic dispute, albeit amid wild tales of shamans, toad venom, illicit affairs and hearts drawn in blood.

Yet there is another link. Like the unfortunate Voronov and Chubais, a number of these dead men held high-ranking positions at — or had close working ties with — the Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom. This £68 billion leviathan — Russia’s biggest company — is centre stage in the Kremlin’s economic and military confrontation with the West over Ukraine.

As a number of European countries are major users of Russian gas — around a third of Germany’s gas is supplied by Moscow — energy supplies can be weaponized by the Kremlin. And if Putin wants to turn off the tap, Gazprom is the vehicle for this policy.


So what does this have to do with the sudden death of so many multi-millionaires who have prospered in the Putin years? Couldn’t their grisly ends have been prompted by the stress of the strict sanctions imposed by the West on their businesses and personal assets? Or perhaps, more prosaically, by the kind of catastrophic marital disputes that plague the super-rich?

Of course, it is just possible that the litany of deaths is a horrible coincidence. But in Russia, such ‘coincidences’ have a sinister history. Some believe the Kremlin is behind the ‘suicides’. Had the victims fallen out of favour, for whatever reason, or did they know too much about Gazprom’s labyrinthine financial secrets, endemic corruption and links to the security services?

In a time of war, a dictator does not pussyfoot. And Putin, the former KGB operative, has indeed torn up the rule book.

He has invaded a sovereign state. His artillery regiments are launching missiles into residential neighbourhoods. His foot soldiers are raping and executing civilians. And he is holding world food supplies hostage by his blockade of Black Sea grain exports.

Against this backdrop, removing a few troublesome tycoons with a knife, gun or poison must seem no bother at all.

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The killing — or culling — began in January as Russian forces massed on the Ukrainian border.

Leonid Shulman, the 60-year-old boss of Gazprom Invest’s transport service, was found dead in a pool of blood on the floor of a bathroom in his house in a wealthy gated development in the district of Leninsky near St Petersburg, where many top Gazprom officials have their country homes.


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