Falls from windows, poisoned food, physically impossible self-strangulation, bodies discovered with head trauma or bullet holes — these are some of the ways that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political opponents have met their unnatural deaths in recent years.
The latest example of that trend came Wednesday, when the Russian state media network TASS reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the private mercenary Wagner Group, was on an airplane that crashed.
A catering magnate nicknamed “Putin’s chef,” the Russian oligarch turned on his patron earlier this summer, when — after criticizing Russia’s strategy in its invasion of Ukraine, where Wagner soldiers are serving — he directed his troops to march on Moscow. Putin declared the rebellion “a knife in the back of our country” and vowed revenge, and Prighozin backed down, retreating to neighboring ally Belarus. Russian media also reported Wednesday that a Prigozhin-linked general was fired from being commander of the country’s air force.
The plane was carrying three crew members and seven passengers from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it went down roughly 185 miles north of the capital.
Some of Putin’s foes have survived apparent assassination attempts. Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned in Siberia in 2020 with what Western experts determined was the military nerve agent Novichok. He survived but is now imprisoned. And Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent living in England, was infamously poisoned with a military-grade nerve weapon in 2018. The British government said it was “highly likely” Russia’s government was responsible.
Here are some of the other most prominent examples of Russians who met the same apparent fate as Prigozhin.
Putin’s adversaries have developed the strange habit of falling out of windows. Last December, Pavel Antov, a Russian businessman and politician, fell from a hotel window in Rayagada, India, after having criticized the war with Ukraine on WhatsApp, the BBC reported.
Also last year, Lukoil chairman Ravil Maganov, who had criticized the invasion of Ukraine, died by falling out the window of a Moscow hospital. In an official statement from Lukoil, Maganov died in September 2022 “following a severe illness,” which it did not name.
A former Russian parliamentarian and an outspoken Putin critic, Denis Voronenkov had fled to Ukraine, where he was killed by gunshot in Kyiv in 2017. Ukraine's then-President Petro Poroshenko called his killing an “act of state terrorism” by Russia, which the Kremlin denied.
In 2015, Mikhail Lesin, a former Kremlin press minister, was found dead of “blunt force trauma to the head” in a Washington, D.C., hotel room. Lesin was under FBI investigation for potential money laundering, and experts speculated that he was killed because he was making a plea deal with the bureau that would have revealed corruption among the Russian elite, according to the Daily Beast.
A political reformer who led massive protests of the 2011 parliamentary election results, for which he had been arrested several times, Boris Nemtsov was shot to death near the Kremlin in 2015. Putin said he would take “personal control” of the investigation, but the murderer was never found.
In 2009, Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist investigating Russia’s brutal prosecution of its war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, was kidnapped outside her home and shot in the woods. In 2021, Europe's top human rights court ruled that Russian authorities did not conduct an effective investigation into the murder.
The onetime Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko died in 2006, about three weeks after drinking tea poisoned with polonium-210, a rare and potent radioactive isotope, during a meeting with two Russian spies at a London hotel. Before fleeing Russia for the United Kingdom, Litvinenko had accused Putin of corruption.
A Russian journalist who accused Putin of creating a police state, Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006 outside her apartment. When five men were convicted of her murder, the judge found it was a contract killing for $150,000, paid by “a person unknown.”
Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin during the 2004 Ukrainian presidential campaign, in which he ran on a pro-Western ticket against pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. His face and body were disfigured, and he has had dozens of operations as a result.
Member of the Russian Parliament Sergei Yushenkov had just registered his Liberal Russia movement as a political party when he was shot to death outside his Moscow home in 2003. Yushenkov, who was active in human rights organizations, was reportedly gathering evidence to prove Putin’s government was behind the deadly 1999 bombing of an apartment building.