Saturday, Jun 03, 2023

Explained: Russian Man Found Dead In Odisha, Third In Two Weeks, Read All About Suspicious Russian Deaths

Explained: Russian Man Found Dead In Odisha, Third In Two Weeks, Read All About Suspicious Russian Deaths

The three Russians who have died in Odisha within a fortnight include Pavel Antov, a Russian lawmaker who reportedly criticised Russian invasion of Ukraine.

One of the Russians who have died in Odisha, Pavel Antov, had reportedly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin
One of the Russians who have died in Odisha, Pavel Antov, had reportedly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin AP

A Russian man was on Tuesday found dead in a ship at a port in Odisha. 

The deceased has been identified as Milyakov Sergey. He is the third Russian man to have been found dead in Odisha within a fortnight. 

Sergey, 51, was found dead in a ship anchored at Paradip Port in Jagatsinghpur district.

Earlier, two Russians, including a millionaire businessman and lawmaker, were found dead in Odisha. They were a part of a four-member Russian group staying at a hotel in Odisha's Rayagada. The lawmaker was identified as Pavel Antov, 65, and the other deceased was identified as Vladimir Bidenov.

What do we know of Milyakov Sergey's death?

Sergey was found dead in his ship chamber around 4.30 am.

Sergey was the chief engineer of the vessel, M B Aldnah, which was on its way to Mumbai from Chittagong Port in Bangladesh via Paradip.

Police could not immediately ascertain the cause of the death.

Paradip Port Trust Chairman P L Haranand confirmed Sergey's death and said an investigation was underway.

The earlier two deaths of Antov and Bidenov are being investigated by Odisha Police. 

String of Russians dying in Odisha 

Sergey is the third Russian to have died in Odisha within a fortnight. Though not much is yet known about him, the death of Antov was particularly intriguing.

Antov died in a hotel in Odisha's Rayagada on December 24. His fellow traveller Bidenov died in the same hotel on December 22.

Antov was found dead after falling from the third floor of the hotel. Bidenov was found dead in his room. 

Though the Embassy of Russia in India said it does not see any foul play in Antov and Bidenov's deaths, these deaths are intriguing as Antov was in news last year for criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Antov, who had a food processing business, had criticised Putin's war in Ukraine last year in a leaked message.

The BBC reported, "Last summer he [Antov] denied criticising Russia's war in Ukraine after a message appeared on his WhatsApp account...Late last June he appeared to react to a Russian missile attack on a residential block in the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv that left a man dead and his seven-year-old daughter and her mother wounded. A WhatsApp message on Antov's account described how the family were pulled out of the rubble: 'It's extremely difficult to call all this anything but terror'."

The BBC added that several Putin critics have died in Russia.

"The millionaire's death is the latest in a series of unexplained deaths involving Russian tycoons since the start of the Russian invasion, many of whom have openly criticised the war," noted BBC.

Suspicious deaths of high-profile Russians

As many as 17 top Russian businesspersons and business executives died suspiciously in 2022. 

Falling from the windows and murder-suicide are two ways that many of them are said to have died, such as:

  • Sergey Protosenya, found dead in May in Spain alongside his wife and daughter.
  • Vladislav Avayev, found dead in May in Moscow with wife and daugher. 

The Business Insider reported that both of these deaths were ruled as murder-suicides and happened within two days.

Both Protosenya and Avayev were part of the Russian oligarchy. Oligarch is the term used to refer to very wealthy persons in Russia who are socially and politically influential. They are also often well-connected to top Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin. Forbes noted that Putin is known to reward loyalist oligarchs and punish those he does not want to favour.

Some other similarly suspicious deathsa are:

  • In March, Vasily Melnikov was found dead with wife and two sons. It was ruled as murder-suicide.
  • In September, Ravil Maganov, chairman of Russian private oil giant Lukoil, died after he fell out of a window of a hospital.

The BBC reported, "Maganov is the latest of a number of high-profile business executives to die in mysterious circumstances...Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Lukoil board called for the conflict to end as soon as possible, expressing its sympathy to victims of 'this tragedy'."

  • In July, Yuri Voronov, head of a Gazprom sub-contrator firm, was found floating dead in his swimming pool with gunshot wounds and a pistol nearby.

    At the time of his death, The Daily Mail reported, "He is at least the sixth wealthy Russian businessman to die in mysterious circumstances since the start of the year, many of them with links to Gazprom, and two of whom died in the same St Petersburg suburb as Voronov."

Theories behind suspicious Russian deaths

There are three theories for these suspicious deaths, according to Vox.

One, these deaths are killings ordered by Putin.

Two, these deaths are part of an elite power struggle in Russia.

Three, theses deaths are, despite their suspicious nature, natural deaths are indeed without any conspiracy.

Russian affairs expert Stanislav Markus told Vox, "We can almost certainly rule out the official explanation of the deaths as suicides or poor health."

The theory that Putin ordered these killing is backed by Russia investor-turned-critic Bill Browder. 

"When people of all the same industry die that way, it looks to me like what I would call an epidemic of murder...The deaths of the Russian oligarchs — predominantly from the oil and gas sector — have come at the orders of the Kremlin," Vox cited Browder as saying in podcast.

Vox explains Browder's theory, "The pressure of sanctions has created a financial crunch for Putin, and the deaths of businessmen are a particularly brutal way to revive streams of funding for the conflict — particularly from Russia’s oil and gas industry."

"I would suspect that this guy said ‘no’ and then the best way of getting that flow of cash is to kill him and then ask his replacement the same question," Browder is further cited as saying in a podcast.

The second theory is that the killings are part of a power struggle.

Vox noted, "The recent run of deaths among Russia’s business elite could well be disguised killings — but the killings may be a product of Russia’s tangled political and economic structures, which are newly under pressure from Russia’s war in Ukraine, more than of any specific, overarching agenda."

Syracuse University professor Brian Taylor told Vox these killings could be related to "shady business, attempt to cover tracks, attempt to wipe out a competitor, trying to maybe get rid of someone who’s inconvenient at a time when there’s a lot of pressure on state-affiliated companies, especially in the oil and gas sector, but also in the defense sector".

Probe into Russian deaths in Odisha

The investigation into the deaths of Antov and Bidenov had not found "no evidence of any foul play" so far, said Odisha Director General of Police (DGP) SK Bansal on Sunday, adding the investigation is being done with an "open mind".

The CID-Crime Branch of Odisha Police is involved in the investigation. The CID has also collected the burnt remnants of Antov and Bidenov from the cremation ground near Rayagada, which will be sent for forensic examination, according to an official statement.

The post-mortem report of Antov indicated that he died of internal injury after a fall, while that of Bidenov pointed to a heart attack as the cause of death, police said.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also got involved in the case. 

The NHRC has issued a notice to the Rayagada SP seeking an Action Taken Report (ATR) within four weeks. The order was based a petition filed by human rights activist Rabindra Kumar Mishra of Berhampur town. 

Mishra told reporters in Berhampur that he requested the commission to look into the matter considering the sensitivity of the issue involving foreign nationals.

(With PTI inputs)