It used to be easy being an oligarch.
One of the wealthiest people in the world, you had entree to some of the most exclusive places, people and things. Everyone clamored for your time, attention and, most of all, money.
But now the tide has turned.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in March, the Russian oligarch class has seen itself backed into a variety of hazards and inconveniences.
Several hundred of them have been sanctioned by global authorities, although many of the very wealthiest have not.
Others have relocated almost entirely to places like Dubai, where they can still pay in rubles, the local grocery stores are Russian and they can be catered to on par with their previous forays in America and Europe.
Most have seen their fortunes decline at least a little, as economic sanctions slam Russia’s economic ties.
But for some, having an in with the Russian economy after the Soviet Union collapsed has lead to the ultimate danger: threats to their lives, lives lived on the lam and sometimes even death by Russian security forces.
Given that context, a string of recent deaths of Russian oligarchs is being given new scrutiny.
Seven Suspicious Deaths
The seventh Russian oligarch killed in mysterious circumstances has now been reported, following a string of deaths of other uber-wealthy compatriots.
Many of those have been identified as having longstanding ties to Russia’s energy sector, including four who were high-ranking executives at the nation’s state-owned gas company Gazprom.
The most recent death was of Alexander Subbotin, a former Lukoil executive, who reportedly died when his shaman administered him a hangover cure tainted with toad venom.
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Subbotin was apparently a dabbler in Jamaican voodoo.
State-run news outlet TASS reported Subbotin’s death.
Why These Oligarchs and Why Now?
Several of the oligarchs were found with their entire families killed as well, a trend that local officials have reportedly said are part of a spate of murder-suicides.
The death of so many well-known, wealthy members of Russian elites has raised both eyebrows and alarm — particularly because thus far, none of the victims are known for having publicly spoken out against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
There have been documented instances of critics of the war now being targeted by the Kremlin and its security forces. One of them was poisoned after attempting truce talks, and another is now on the run after being forced to sell his business interests to a friend of President Vladimir Putin.
But the seven killings were not of known critics of Putin.
Who Did It and Why?
The seven men are Vladislav Avayev, Vasily Melnikov, Alexander Tulyakov, Leonid Shulman, Sergey Protosenya, Alexander Subbotin and Mikhail Watford.
The rash of deaths of men all in the same line of business and all worth billions of dollars has raised questions about how people with ties to the Kremlin could be murdered with impunity so many times.
“In all cases, there are widespread suspicions that the deaths may have been staged as suicides, but who did this and why?” Grzegorz Kuczyński, a director at the Warsaw Institute, a Polish think tank, told a Canadian news service.
Fedor Protosenya, son of Sergey Protosenya, one of the other dead oligarchs, has said he does not believe that the deaths of his father, sister and mother could have been a murder-suicide because he father had no bloodstains on him.
Igor Volobuev, a former vice president at Gazprombank, has also questioned the deaths. He told news outlets that he did not think Avayev committed suicide, although he had not known him personally.
“I never knew him and never heard of him before [the deaths],” Volobuev said.
“I do not believe that he could have killed his wife and daughter. I think it’s staged. Why?” Volobuev said. “It is hard to say. Maybe he knew something and represented some kind of danger.”