Putin's Critics Have A Disturbing Tendency Of Ending Up Dead

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Vladimir Putin's presidency has inspired widespread criticism. Now, many question why those who speak out against him die under suspicious circumstances.

The Kremlin, Moscow. Wikimedia Commons: AlixSaz

On Wednesday, Nikolai Andrushchenko, a Russian journalist famous for his criticism of President Vladimir Putin, died from injuries sustained in a brutal beating by unknown attackers. He had been hospitalized since March 9 and spent weeks in a coma before his death. 

Andrushchenko's death raises many questions, but there are few concrete answers. As a result, many people are left feeling suspicious, as a list compiled by the Washington Post shows.

"I have an impression — I hope it’s only an impression — that the practice of killing political opponents has started spreading in Russia," former parliamentarian and ex-security services officer Gennady Gudkov told the Moscow Times.

A co-founder of the newspaper Novy Peterburg, which has a reputation for speaking out against the government's corruption, Andrushchenko was no friend to the Kremlin in a time when its loudest opponents are meeting bad ends. He is not the first outspoken critic of Putin to die under questionable circumstances, but yet another public figure to add to a list that keeps growing.

Sergei Yushenkov (June 27, 1950-April 17, 2003)

A liberal politician vehemently opposed to Putin, Yushenkov was gunned down outside his Moscow apartment in 2003. He was shot three times in the back by an unknown assailant using a pistol and silencer. At the time of his death, he was investigating Putin's potential role in the 1999 apartment bombings with Yuri Shchekochikhin.

Yuri Shchekochikhin (June 9, 1950-July 3, 2003)

Friends and colleagues of Yuri Shchekochikhin believe he was poisoned for his investigation into the 1999 apartment bombings for the Moscow twice-weekly Novaya Gazeta, of which he was deputy editor. A long-time reporter on crime and corruption in the former Soviet Union, Shchekochikhin had a record of reporting that placed him in the government's cross hairs. The Washington Post reports that the medical documents detailing his sudden cause of death are held by Russian authorities and remain classified.

Reuters.

Alexander Litvinenko (August 30, 1962-November 23, 2006)

Alexander Litvinkenko was a former KGB agent who spoke out against the agency once he left service. He linked the KGB to the 1999 apartment bombings and implicated Putin in the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Litvinkenko died from drinking tea laced with polonium-210 while staying at a hotel in London. A British investigation found that Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun carried out the assassination based on orders potentially approved by Putin. Russia refused to extradite the agents for foreign trial and Lugovoi was awarded a medal for "services to the motherland."

Reuters.

Anna Politkovskaya (August 30, 1958-October 7, 2006)

A reporter for the Novaya Gazeta and author of "Putin's Russia," a book that detailed how the president had turned the country into a police state, Anna Politkovskaya's death was labeled by The Guardian as "the murder that killed free media in Russia." The judge ruled the murder as a $150,000 contract killing and five men were charged, but the identity of the contractor was never discovered. Politkovskaya was shot at close range in an elevator in her apartment complex, her death ringing in a darker, quieter era for Russian journalism.

Natalya Estemirova (February 28, 1958-July 15, 2009)

Natalya Estemirova was an award-winning human rights activist whose work focused on the Russian government's ghastly counter-terrorism efforts in Chechyna. Much of her reporting was on civilians caught in the cross-fires of these policies and did nothing for Putin's shadowy image. She was abducted from her home in Grozny, shot multiple times, and then left in the woods nearby. No one has been found guilty of her murder.

Reuters.

Sergei Magnitsky (April 8, 1972-November 16, 2009)

A lawyer and whistleblower who had uncovered a $230 million tax evasion case, Sergei Magnitsky was allegedly arrested after connecting the fraud to Russian officials. He served 358 days in prison under suspicion of his own tax evasion, of which he was convicted posthumously. An investigation by Russia's Presidential Human Right's Council revealed that he was beaten and suffered severe head trauma while imprisoned. He died in police custody from heart failure and toxic shock after being denied medical treatment for pancreatitis. The Kremlin dropped any further investigation into Magnitsky's death, despite fallout with the United States over the situation.

Wikimedia Commons: Alexei Kouprianov

Stanislav Markelov (May 20, 1974-January 19, 2009) and Anastasia Baburova (November 30, 1983-January 19, 2009)

On Jan.19, 2009, Russia lost two activists who had made their mark in human rights, even if it placed them against a terrifying government. Stanislav Markelov was a lawyer who represented Chechen civilians in cases against the Russian military during their crackdown on terrorism in the region. He also represented journalists pulled into legal battles after writing critiques of Putin, one of which was Anastasia Baburova, another reporter for the Novaya Gazeta. They were both shot outside the Kremlin, Baburova killed as she tried to help Markelov. The Russian government sentenced two members of a neo-Nazi group for their murders.

Reuters.

Boris Berezovsky (January 23, 1946-March 23, 2013)

Boris Berezovsky was a powerful Russian tycoon seen as a key player in Putin's rise to the presidency. However, their relationship soured and Berezovsky exiled himself after being labeled Russia's enemy number one. He accused the Kremlin of Litvinenko's murder, after which he was found hanged inside a locked bathroom in his home in the United Kingdom. While thought to be suicide, the exact cause of his death remains undetermined.

Alexei Devotchenko (October 14, 1965-November 5, 2014)

A popular Russian actor and anti-Putin activist, Alexei Devotchenko was found dead in his apartment in Moscow. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, but some Russian media reported that he was found in a pool of his own blood. Empty bottles of whiskey and the drug phenazapam were also said to be found near his corpse. While friends believe he was murdered, police continue to insist that there was no evidence of violence.

Flickr: Johnny Silvercloud

Boris Nemtsov (Octover 9, 1959-February 27, 2015)

Boris Nemtsov was a political figure in Russia and seen by many as President Boris Yeltsin's successor. Nevertheless, Putin won the election and Nemtsov was initially supportive. However, Putin's repeated attacks on civil liberties turned Nemtsov into one of his loudest opponents, and he began to hold massive rallies in protest of the new government's authoritarian leanings. As the Kremlin began to violently oppress any opposition, Nemtsov was arrested multiple times. This did nothing to dissuade him from continuing to organize against corruption. Hours after rallying the public to march against Russia's occupation of Ukraine, he was shot four times in the back near the Kremlin. The Washington Post wrote that Putin took "personal control" of the investigation into Nemtsov's death, but the murderer has yet to be found.

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