Very few parts of Russian society have drawn more interest than the so-called “oligarchs.” These are incredibly wealthy men with political connections to Putin’s inner circle because, in the totalitarian kleptocracy that is Russia under Vladimir Putin, if you don’t have political ties to Putin’s inner circle, wealth doesn’t bring you power; it brings you a one-way trip to a Siberian labor camp.
The first generation of Russian oligarchs emerged from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, whose state control over the economy began to loosen under Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, or restructuring reforms.
Gorbachev’s successor as president, Boris Yeltsin, then ramped up privatization, seeking to transform Russia with its trove of state assets into a free-market economy — and fast. Yeltsin and the other architects of post-Soviet Russia rapidly loosened state control over prices and property, according to David Hoffman, author of “The Oligarchs” and a contributing editor at The Washington Post.
The government sold swaths of state-owned enterprise — from small restaurants to oil giants — in both rigged auctions and through privatization vouchers. The result was a scramble to grab the rewards.
This group has mostly disappeared from the public eye. They are now surrounded by a new breed of oligarchs, who all owe Vladimir Putin everything.
The era of the older guard ended in large part after Putin was elected president in 2000. Russia’s new leader did not embrace the spirit of perestroika or approve of the rise of new capitalist tycoons.
[Putin] moved to rein in the Russian financiers’ power and consolidate his own. Along the way, he ended up creating his own class of influential elite — the new oligarchs.
Timothy Frye from Columbia University, who is a professor in post-Soviet foreign policies, stated that this generation has been less interested in infusing themselves with the West than the older generations.
Frye says they fall in three main categories.
The first is those who are deeply connected to Putin. They have created companies mostly on huge state contracts, which were profitable but also non-competitive. Putin, for instance, opened the $4 billion bridge linking Russia and Crimea in 2018. It was built by a billionaire businessman and construction magnate, Arkady Rotenberg, who also happens to be Putin’s childhood friend and former judo sparring partner.
Second are the business executives who “cut their teeth in Russia in the Putin era,” said Frye, and were appointed by the president to run major state companies. One of these people is Igor Sechin who is a close ally to Putin and was appointed chairman of Rosneft. Rosneft is Russia’s state-owned oil company. France this month seized Sechin’s 281-foot yacht the Amore Vero (or “true love” in Italian). United States, Britain, and the E.U. All three nations have sanctioned Sechin in the last week.
Third, there are the national security hawks — elite security and military hard-liners, some of whose relationships with Putin date back to his years as a K.G.B. agent. While not traditional oligarchs, some of them have leveraged their connections in the security services and “cashed them in,” Frye said.
These individuals have been prominent in American politics. For example, Oleg Deripaska was a central figure in the Russia Hoax as well as being an FBI informant (see There Might Be A Very Good Reason Why Mueller Is Not Indicting Paul Manafort’s Russian Business Partner). Another oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, owned Concord Management and Consulting and beat Robert Mueller’s flunkies like a rented mule in one of the Russia Hoax trials (see Mueller’s Team Continues Their Humiliation at the Hands of a Russian Oligarch). Prigozhin also is the principal of the Wagner Group, the nebulous corporation that employs mercenaries to places where Putin would rather not send Russian troops to do things he’s rather Russian troops not be caught doing, you know, like torture and low-level genocide.
But being a politically connected billionaire is not all superyachts and scantily clad “models.” It is damned stressful, if not downright dangerous. At least six Russian oligarchs are known to have taken their own lives since January.
Newsweek: List of Russian oligarchs that have died in strange circumstances since January, per Newsweek
✔️ Sergey Protosenya
✔️ Vladislav Avaev
✔️ Vasily Melnikov
✔️ Mikhail Watford
✔️ Alexander Tyulyakov
✔️ Leonid Shulmanhttps://t.co/amSoDp4xJM#StandWithUkraine️
— Alex Raufoglu (@ralakbar) April 22, 2022
Via Newsweek, here’s a list of the deceased.
The body of Sergey Protosenya, former top manager of Russia’s energy giant Novatek, was found together with those of his wife and daughter on Tuesday in a rented villa in Spain, where the family was reportedly on holiday for Easter.
Spanish media reported that the Catalonian police found the 55-year-old millionaire hanging in his garden in Lloret de Mar. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter were discovered in their bed with multiple stab wounds.
Telecinco reports that police are looking into two scenarios: Either the Russian oligarch murdered his daughter and wife, then killed himself. Or, the whole family was killed and staged the crime scene to make it look like a murder-suicide.
A mere day prior to the discovery of Protosenya’s corpse in Spain on April 17, former Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Avaev and his spouse, daughter, were found murdered in their multimillion-dollar apartment at Universitetsky Prospekt, Moscow.
After being in direct contact with their family for many days, a relative of Avaevs reportedly found the bodies.
The apartment was locked from the inside and a pistol was found in Avaev’s hands, leading investigators to explore the theory that Avaev shot his wife and his 13-year-old daughter before killing himself.
Kommersant, a Russian newspaper reported that Vasily Melnikov died in his luxurious apartment in Nizhny Novgorod. It is the sixth largest city in Russia.
According to police investigations mentioned by Kommersant, Melnikov—who reportedly worked for the medical firm MedStom—was found dead in the apartment together with his wife Galina and two sons. All three of them had died from stabbing wounds, and all the knives used in the murders were discovered at the crime scene.
Kommersant stated that Melnikov had killed his wife of 41 years, as well as his 10-year-old daughter and 4 year-old daughters. But neighbors and other relatives aren’t convinced. According to the Ukrainian media outlet Glavred, Melnikov’s company was suffering huge losses because of Western sanctions.
Mikhail Watford, a Russian-born tycoon from Ukraine was discovered dead at his Surrey home on February 28, 2015.
Watford—who had changed his name from the original Tolstosheya—was born in 1955 in then-Soviet Ukraine and had made a name for himself after becoming an oil and gas magnate.
The Daily Mail reports that Watford aged 66 was found hanging in his garage by a gardener. According to The Daily Mail, Surrey police stated that the circumstances surrounding Watford’s death weren’t suspicious.
On February 25, Gazprom’s Deputy General Director of the Unified Settlement Center (UCC) for Corporate Security, Alexander Tyulyakov, was found dead in a cottage near St. Petersburg, as reported by the Russian newspaper Gazeta.
Tyulyakov’s body was reportedly found hanged in the apartment’s garage. A note found next to Tyulyakov’s body led police to conclude that he had killed himself.
Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, was responsible for the first deaths. It happened in January before Russian invaders began to attack Ukraine.
At that time, 60-year-old Gazprom’s top manager Leonid Shulman was found dead in the bathroom of a cottage in the Leningrad region, next to a note that led police to believe he died by suicide, according to Gazeta and Russian media group RBC.
This could be just a random coincidence. Schulman, who was in sick leave at time of his suicide could actually be an anomaly. These five other deaths are likely to have something to do with the invasion of Ukraine. Or maybe billionaire psychopaths are prone to killing their families before committing suicide.
When you combine this with stories of a purge within the Russian domestic security service (150 FSB Foreign Intelligence Agents and Putin’s Domestic Policy Advisor Purged for Ukraine Fiasco), the head of Putin’s personal paramilitary force being placed under arrest (Top General in Putin’s Personal Army Is Arrested by FSB), the firing of eight senior generals, and a fresh purge underway in the Ukraine theater, one is not left with the view of a healthy government.
First, General Osipov was dismissed by the Kremlin as Black Sea fleet commander. He is currently being held. pic.twitter.com/RM6XtqVD1y
— Victor Kovalenko (@MrKovalenko) April 22, 2022
 Also, the Russian MoD dismissed Gen. Lt. Sergei Kisel from the post of a commander of the 1st Russian tank Army for a failure to capture the Chernihiv & Sumy provinces, non-functional tanks, poorly prepared troops, using conscripts in the war against the law, etc. pic.twitter.com/I9t8ikrSq6
— Victor Kovalenko (@MrKovalenko) April 22, 2022
Rus. MoD fired Lt. General Arkadiy Marsoev, a commander in the 22nd Army Corps. He’s a son of a Soviet Col. Vasily Marzoev who in #WWIIHe defeated the Nazis at Moscow and Stalingrad. He died in 2004 & didn’t see how his son disgraced the father’s glory. pic.twitter.com/NOAC9vcgPX
— Victor Kovalenko (@MrKovalenko) April 22, 2022
Putin does not feel this pressure, which I find absurd. Ukraine is already more tanksRussia is less successful in this area. Russia’s artillery is almost equal, and it has more artillery than Russia. In a recent television appearance, Putin did not appear the shrewd, in control, and bombastic autocrat that we’ve seen in the past.
Putin says he doesn’t want the factory stormed. It is impossible to stay inside. Shoigu says to him that he will lock the door so not a single fly escapes. pic.twitter.com/fACOrS9JJE
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) April 21, 2022
Either we are witnessing a cascade of unlikely events within a 60-day timeframe, or the institutions upon which Putin depends to stay in power–the security services, the military, and the oligarchs–are shaken by Putin’s War in Ukraine. The actions he is taking will either stiffen the resolve of those institutions…or it won’t.