Drowning of Russian Executive Latest in a String of Mysterious Deaths

Drowning of Russian Executive Latest in a String of Mysterious Deaths
The icebreaker Tor at the port of Sabetta in the Kara Sea shore line, on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle, some 1,500 miles from Moscow, on April 16, 2015. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)
Jennifer Bateman

The recent death of a Russian executive who fell into the sea is the latest in a string of mysterious deaths among Russian executives, many with ties to the energy industry.

According to local media in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok, Ivan Pechorin, the aviation director of Far East and Arctic Development Company (KRDV), sailed near the Russian island on Sept. 10 and fell overboard from the boat while drunk. His body was found washed ashore 100 miles from Vladivostok after a two-day search.

Two days before his death, he had attended the Eastern Economic Forum in the city, where he gave a speech on transportation. The forum focused on the economic development of Russia’s energy and mineral-rich far east. Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended the forum on Sept. 7 and gave a speech.

Pechorin, 39, was known as “Putin’s man” in the region. It was reported that Putin personally placed him in that position. Many consider his accident unusual.

He is not the first executive of the company to have died mysteriously. In February, the company’s 43-year-old chief executive, Igor Nosov, died of a stroke. According to Russian economic daily RBC, Nosov fell ill after learning of his dismissal from the company at a meeting and died shortly thereafter. The report did not mention the reason for his dismissal.

Nosov had been in the post for just nine months, while his predecessor, Eduard Cherkin, who was also appointed by the government, had only been in office for four months.

KRDV is a key corporation in Putin’s project to develop the rich energy and mining resources of Russia’s easternmost region. Pechorin was responsible for improving aviation accessibility in the area by modernizing airport infrastructure.

The development of Russia’s far east, including the Arctic, has become increasingly important for the Russian economy in the face of severe sanctions from the West.

Experts: Energy Industry Secretly Funds Russian Intelligence Operations

In regards to the string of unusual deaths of Russian energy executives this year, Swedish economist Anders Aslund, author of the book “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy,” feels that special agents are responsible.

“There is a cleaning out going on and it’s difficult to pin down any one person ... who’s doing it,” he told the New York Post. “But this looks like Kremlin murders to me.”

Citing his own Russian sources, Aslund told the newspaper that Russian intelligence drew up two lists of executives in the country’s energy sector, one in late 2021 and the other in early March. He said authorities suspected someone in the energy industry of leaking information about its funding of secret operations undertaken by Russian foreign intelligence, including the invasion of Ukraine.

“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,” Aslant said.

According to an April report by the Warsaw Institute, a think tank, security officials at Gazprom, the world’s largest publicly traded Russian state-run natural gas company, were investigating four of the five executive deaths at the company.

“At least two of the executives knew a lot about the company’s financial flow,” the report said. “In all cases, there are widespread suspicions that the deaths may have been staged as suicides. But who did this and why? Possibly some senior Kremlin-linked people are now covering up the traces of fraud in state-run companies.”

As early as last September, Mark Gyetvay, chief financial officer of Novatek, Russia’s largest liquefied natural gas producer, was charged by the U.S. Justice Department with tax fraud for concealing a large number of his offshore assets.

Mysterious Deaths of Four Gazprom Executives

On Feb. 25, Gazprom executive Alexander Tyulakov was found hanged in a garage near St. Petersburg. Tyulyakov was Gazprom’s Deputy General Director of the Unified Settlement Center (UCC) for Corporate Security. Police and the company’s security department arrived at the scene almost immediately after the incident.

In late January, Leonid Shulman, head of the company’s investment and transportation services, was found dead in his bathroom with multiple stab wounds. Rusian media reported that a note was found next to him, stating that he couldn’t bear the pain from a leg injury.

On April 18, Vladimir Avayev, former vice president of Gazprombank, his wife and 13-year-old daughter were found dead in their Moscow apartment.

Investigators say Avayev, 51, killed his wife and daughter before taking his own life. His older daughter, 22, reportedly said that the door to the apartment was locked from the inside and there was no sign that anyone else was present at the time of the shooting.

However, people who contacted Avayev shortly before his death said he had been in a good mood and did not seem likely to shoot his family to death. Shortly thereafter, the company’s two other senior executives were found dead in a mansion compound near St. Petersburg.

In addition to these four deaths, in July, Yuri Voronov, the founder of Astra-Shipping, a transportation and logistics company and a contractor for Gazprom’s arctic projects, was found dead in the pool of his luxury villa outside St. Petersburg, shot in the head at close range.

In addition to the theory that the top executives knew too much about fraud, some suspect they were murdered because they opposed the Russia–Ukraine war, although none of them had publicly denounced Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

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