Death of the Oligarchs
Two wealthy Russian families wiped out
Back-to-back. Within twenty-four hours of each other. Both involved senior executives of Russian gas giants who appeared to have murdered their familes and then committed suicide. Both saw the bodies discovered by a surviving child not present at the time of the murders.
The first was Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Ayalev, who appeared to have shot his wife and 13-year-old daughter in the family’s plush Moscow flat before turning the gun on himself.
The second was Novatek chairman Sergey Protosenya, found dead with his wife and 18-year-old daughter in their Spanish villa after—apparently—stabbing them to death and then hanging himself in the garden. Both companies, and the men who run them, maintain strong ties to the Kremlin.
So, two oligarchs and their family members dead in two back-to-back murder-suicides? Is that really feasible. Sure, it could be the case. Or it could be that these were professional hits made to look like murder-suicides—and in that sly, paradoxical way that the Kremlin traditionally loves to cover its tracks, establish the kind of plausible deniability that makes it undeniable that it was them. A sprinkle of polonium here, a whiff of Novichok there… You catch the drift? Confusion as a calling card of clarity. Make both hits look like murder-suicides, but do them back-to-back so that everyone—especially the other oligarchs—knows what really happened (keep everyone in line); and both times hedge the odds of coincidence by leaving the stray child alive to find the bodies, heighten the horror of it. The Russians have long-mastered the art of political terror—going back to the tsars.
Or maybe it was another crew. From another country. Ukraine had its own KGB once, now the SBU, and they ain’t exactly debutantes.
We may never know for sure.
And that’s the point.
To know but not know.
Adrift in a wilderness of shattered mirrors.
Alex Holstein is the co-author of Warfighter: The Story of an American Fighting Man, due out May 15, 2022, from Lyons Press. He holds an MSc in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies from the London School of Economics, where he wrote his thesis on the Soviet KGB.