On the morning of 19 October 2021, a German policeman guarding the Russian Embassy in central Berlin noticed a man lying on the pavement near the Embassy, apparently dead. The officer immediately called the emergency services, which, however, could not even formally establish the death. The embassy officials took the body, claiming that they would not provide any information because the deceased had a diplomatic status. Indeed, the body was flown to Moscow in a hurry, without an on-the-spot autopsy and without any explanation being given to the German officials. The official news of the mysterious death of the diplomat did not come out, incidentally, until two weeks later.
Later, the investigative journalism website Bellingcat reported that the deceased diplomat held the rank of Second Secretary at the Embassy and had previously served as Third Secretary at the United Nations Mission of Russia in Vienna until 2019. An interesting fact is, however, the diplomat’s father, Alexei Zhalo, was a highly influential high-rank officer, a general in the Russian Security Service (FSB) structure (the so-called Second Division), and deputy head of the Russian Constitutional Order Protection Unit. To put it simple, this is the FSB unit responsible for tracking, detaining and… poisoning. All those who have been poisoned (including Alexei Navalny) may be “grateful” to the above-mentioned unit and, apparently, to its head. The German security services suspect that the General’s son was also working under cover for the FSB, although they have no hard evidence.
Why wasn’t it reported for so long about the death of a diplomat? Diplomatic status is not so easy to disguise here, even if the deceased is the son of an FSB general. After all, what matters is whether the death was natural, whether the German citizens are to blame (murder?) or….? Or is this another victim of the strange disease of Russian diplomats – sudden death?
This strange story has sparked interest in other equally puzzling stories of the Russian diplomats. Since 2015, a number of Russian diplomatic staff members have died (or died?) under mysterious circumstances. Some have indeed been shot, but the cause of death of others has been given as “acute short illness” or “acute heart failure”.
So, in November 2015, Mikhail Lesin, the founder of the well-known propaganda television Russia Today and, after all, an adviser to the President Vladimir Putin, was found dead in a hotel room in Washington’s Dupont Circle. Nicknamed “The Bulldozer” for his ability to destroy the independent media, he was awarded the Medal of Merit for the Fatherland. It was reported that he “felt unwell on the eve of the event”, but later leaked information about a head injury, possible alcohol poisoning. It is believed that he was indeed hit with a baseball bat. According to a non-public report by the British intelligence guru Christopher Steel, Mikhail Lesin was probably killed by assassins hired by one of the oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin.
A veritable epidemic of deaths engulfed Russian diplomacy at the turn of 2016-2017.
On 8 November 2016, Sergei Krivov was killed at the Russian Consulate in New York. Initially it was reported as a careless fall from the roof of the consulate, it was later “clarified” that he suffered a heart attack and suffocated by falling to the floor. It is known that he was a security officer formally responsible for the protection of the diplomatic mission. This would be quite normal, as most missions have them, but the Americans have a reason to believe that there was something more under the guise of a “regular officer”. Sergei Krivov knew all the encryption-decryption codes for secret correspondence, and his circle of communication was much wider than would be appropriate for a consulate guard. So to this day, the New York Police Department (the famous NYPD) cannot give a clear answer as to what happened there. Although… New York is still too public a place for diplomats to be “removed”.
On 20 December of the same year in Turkey, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andei Karlov, was shot dead by a policeman in an art gallery in front of everyone. The incident was filmed. The assailant praised Allah and told not to forget Syria and Aleppo. Syria was indeed “on fire” at the time. The 22-year-old attacker was shot dead by the Turkish officials, the President of Russia formally expressed his condolences and called the whole incident a provocation aimed at destroying the improving relations between Russia and Turkey. Turkey has publicly blamed Gulen’s supporters (there was a recent putsch), while the Russians have blamed Syrian Islamists. So it is more than a crime here, too.
On the same day, 56-year-old diplomat Petr Polshikov, who worked in the South America and Latin America Division of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is found dead in his home in Moscow. The diplomat was shot with a pistol, which was later found hidden in the bathroom. According to unconfirmed reports, the diplomat’s wife was at home at the time of the massacre, but the circumstances of the incident remain unclear.
A few days later, on 26 December, the body of Oleg Erovinkin was found. And not just anywhere – in a car belonging to Rosneft. Oleg Erovinkin was a former high-ranking officer of the KGB and the FSB, who in 2008 became head of the secretariat of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. The official version of his death is a heart attack. The rumours are that he was too close to foreign intelligence services.
On 9 January 2017, the Russian Ambassador in Greece Andrei Malanin was found dead in his bathroom in Athens. He was a relatively young man, and one does not usually die suddenly. There was hardly any attack, no signs of resistance, and the diplomatic area where the ambassador lived is under close police surveillance.
Another way to think of Alexander Kadakin, 67, who died on 27 January in the hospital in Delhi, India. It was reported that the cause of death was heart failure. Alexander Kadakin was known as a consistent supporter of India since the 1971 Indo-USSR Friendship Treaty.
Of course, Vitaly Churkin, a well-known representative of Russia at the United Nations, who has been involved in some of the world’s most important political decisions. People were talking that he is a possible successor to the Minister Sergei Lavrov. The diplomat died in New York on the eve of his 65th birthday, technically also of acute heart failure. However, the New York medical staff suspected something else and suggested a toxicology test. However, the Russian UN mission, under the cover of diplomatic immunity, demanded that all information about the cause of death be classified.
Finally, the Russian Ambassador to Sudan Mirgayas Shirinsky was found drowned in a swimming pool at his residence in summer 2017. The country’s forensic investigators launched an investigation, but later admitted that the man had died of “natural causes” and had high blood pressure. Before his appointment in Sudan, Mirgayas Shirinsky had been based in Rwanda and was known as an experienced expert on African politics.
It cannot be denied that the series of deaths was accidental, but such a phenomenon in a short run is nevertheless strange. Is global terrorism killing Russian diplomacy? Is it internal score-keeping? Are Russian diplomats alcoholics and have heart problems? The natural question is why diplomats who have poor health are not recalled and allowed to die in their workplace?
Russia certainly has many enemies in the world. These include, for example, Islamic extremists, who have much to hate Moscow for… It is possible to “turn” murder into heart failure, but it requires quite good preparation. Russia has that capacity. But if that is the case, the more important question is why?
Sudan is known as a country where information about Africa and the Islamic world is “exchanged”. Athens and New Delhi are also known as spy centres. Is this the start of a war or a cover-up?