WASHINGTON, February 25, 2017—At least eight Russian diplomats have died unexpectedly since November 8, 2016. A few of these unexpected deaths can be interpreted as mere coincidence, but as the death toll among the Russian diplomatic community rises, some have started asking questions.
Following is a list of the know deaths among Russian diplomats since Donald Trump was elected, along with what has been reported regarding the circumstances of each death.
63, consular duty commander
November 8, 2016 at the Russian Consulate in New York City
Circumstances: found dead on the floor at work, head trauma/heart attack
Sergei Krivov, consular duty commander for the Russian Consulate in Manhattan, was found dead on the floor of consulate early on the morning of November 8. Initial reports describe an injury to the head, as well as suspicions that Krivov had fallen from the consulate roof. However, the story quickly changed to a “heart attack” according to Buzzfeed.
The circumstances surrounding exactly who Krivov was, what he did at the consulate, how he died, and what happened to his body continue to raise questions. Consular officials have brushed off inquiries, stating that Krivov died of natural causes.
56, chief advisor Latin America department, Russian Foreign Ministry
December 20, 2016, apartment in Moscow
Circumstances: gunshot wound to the head, found on bedroom floor
Petr Polshikov was found dead in his Moscow apartment with a gunshot wound to his head on December 20, 2016, having been shot a few hours before Andrey Karlov was shot in Ankara. It is unclear whether Polshikov still worked for the Russian government in any capacity.
The exact circumstances of Polshikov’s death are unclear, but there are reports that empty bullet casings were found in the apartment and a gun was found under a bathroom sink. Polshikov’s wife was reported to have been in the apartment at the time of the shooting and was found safe.
Russian officials stated that Polshikov’s death was unrelated to his work, but local police said they were investigating “all possible theories.”
62, ambassador to Turkey
December 20, 2016, art gallery in Ankara
Circumstances: shot nine times by an off-duty Ankara police officer
Andrey Karlov was shot in the back while making a speech at an Ankara art gallery.
The shooter was an off-duty Ankara policeman who shouted, “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” and “Allahu Akbar” as Karlov lay at his feet. The attacker was later shot and killed by Turkish police in what was described as “a terrorist act” by the Russian government.
Age unknown, Head of interim group of Russian Consulate General in Kazakhstan
December 26, 2016, apartment in Ust-Kamenogorsk
Circumstances: found by driver, apparent heart attack
Very little has been reported in the English-speaking press about the death of Skrylnikov. What is known is that his driver found his body in a rented apartment in Ust-Kamenogorsk, in Eastern Kazakhstan. Skrylnikov was a Russian citizen and employed by the Russian Consulate, even though not technically a diplomat. There are reports that police did not find signs of violence on the body and suspect the cause of death to be a heart attack.
61, ex-KGB general and top Rosneft executive
December 26, 2017, central Moscow
Circumstances: found in back of company car in Moscow, heart attack
Oleg Erovinkin, assumed to have helped former MI6 spy Christopher Steele in assembling the infamous dossier claiming Trump has deep ties to Russia, was found in the back seat of a company Lexus by his driver, who called authorities.
Erovinkin’s cause of death is unclear, and an official cause of death has not been made public yet. His body was “sent to the FSB morgue,” according to RIA Novosti news agency. Mikhail Leontiev, Rosneft Press Secretary, stated that Erovinking “had problems with his heart.”
54, head of consular department at Russian Embassy in Athens
January 8, 2017, apartment in Athens
Circumstances: natural causes
Malanin was found dead on the bedroom floor of his Athens apartment after he failed to show up for work. Accompanied by police, Malanin’s colleagues went to his home, where they found his body. There were no sign of a break-in and no signs of violence on the body.
“At first sight, we are talking about natural causes,” Greek police at the scene stated.
67, Russian ambassador to India
January 26, 2017, hospital in India
Circumstances: brief illness and heart failure
Kadakin, a career diplomat, died at a hospital in India after “a brief illness.” Another report states that Kadakin died after suffering a heart attack.
Kadakin had been ambassador to India since 2009, but had been working as a diplomat in India intermittently since the 1970s.
64, Russian ambassador to the United Nations
February 20, 2017, Russian mission to the UN in Manhattan
Circumstances: “apparent heart attack” after collapsing at work
Vitaly Churkin collapsed while at work at the Russian mission to the UN on the morning of Monday February 20, and was pronounced dead shortly after at a Manhattan hospital. Churkin served as ambassador to the UN since 2006, after serving as ambassador to Canada and Belgium.
There is no reporting of Churkin suffering from failing health before his death, and he worked “until his last moments,” according to Russian deputy UN ambassador, Petr Iliichev. Churkin’s death was reportedly a shock to his UN colleagues.
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not give details on the circumstances of Churkin’s death, but an anonymous U.S. government official told Reuters that Churkin died of an apparent heart attack.
After performing an autopsy the day after Churkin’s death, the New York City medical examiner stated that the cause and manner of the ambassador’s death requires further study.
Clearly, at least a few of these deaths can be attributed to natural causes. Others appear highly suspicious. They could all be coincidence, especially given that the average life expectancy for Russian males is 70.4 years. However, eight sudden deaths in less than five months merit more investigation.
Featured image: Larry Koester, Flickr Creative Commons