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The strange rash of unexplained deaths among leading Russia business figures is the result of vicious infighting brought about by Western sanctions, a leading Russia expert has said.
Bill Browder ran Russia's largest foreign investment firm for a decade, but was declared a threat to Russian national security and deported to the UK in 2005.
Speaking before Wednesday’s Magnitsky Human Rights Awards in London, the American-born British financier said that the bizarre series of “suicides” is in fact the result of a war between rival Kremlin insiders.
READ MORE: Six prominent Russian oligarchs have died in suspected suicides this year
The Western sanctions have hit the Russian bosses’ business interests very hard, and they are fighting over what remains.
Describing the series of “suicides” and being caused by “a bunch of greedy b*****ds fighting over money and getting killed for it,” Browder told the Daily Mail: “What you have going on is this viper's nest of fighting over assets, cash flow and power as the economic pie shrinks in Russia”.
He said the combatants in this struggle for economic supremacy were “people who sit in positions that have some kind of authority over important cash flows – particularly in the oil and gas business, such as firms Gazprom, Lukoil, Novatek or Gazprombank.
As Putin clambered up the "greasy pole" to Kremlin supremacy many Russian business leaders attached themselves to his coat-tails – and made tidy fortunes in the process.
The series of over a dozen unexplained deaths began on January 30, when 60-year-old Leonid Shulman, transport chief for Russian energy giant Gazprom, was found dead in the bathroom of his country house in the Leningrad region. A suicide note was found near his body.
Another top Russian businessman, Igor Nosov, reportedly suffered a stroke on February 8, but the cycle of deaths accelerated after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Ukrainian-born telecoms tycoon Yevgeny Palant was found with 14 stab wounds at his home near Moscow on June 29.
His 50-year-old wife Olga is alleged to have killed the millionaire in a jealous rage before killing herself. Two hearts were painted in blood on a wall near their bodies.
(Image: Social media/EAST2WEST NEWS)
In another bizarre case Billionaire Alexander Subbotin, a former executive for Russian energy giant Lukoil, was found dead in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi.
Subbotin was reportedly undergoing an “alternative medicine” treatment for a hangover when he died. Offbeat remedies are popular among the Russian ruling class, with Putin himself indulging in a weird "deer antler" remedy.
According to the Telegram channel Mash , Subbotin had visited a shaman who specialised in performing a “treatment” involving a poisonous toad.
Several other high-ranking Russian oligarchs have died in mysterious circumstances and it's been suggested that they have been killed for criticising the attack on Ukraine, or just for trying to take their millions out of the country.
(Image: SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Sergey Protosenya, Vladislav Avayev, Alexander Tyulakov and Leonid Shulman have all been found dead since the war on Ukraine began.
Former FSB colonel Gennady Gudkov said they could well have been eliminated on Putin’s orders: “If we already understand that the regime is engaged in the elimination of its opponents and enemies then why will they not deal with those who are considered traitors who have fled the system."
While not referring to any specific cases, Browder said that this strong string of deaths had been the result of infighting among Russian business leaders: “If somebody is sitting in front of a cash flow that is going to somebody else, and some meaner, tougher person comes and says 'we need you to send that to us' – the person who is in charge of that cash flow will either be killed by the person they're redirecting it from or the person they're not redirecting it to,” he said.