Elaine Godfrey has a catalog of Russian oligarch deaths in 2022, and boy howdy, when you put them all together it looks even stranger and more grim for that crowd than it already did when just thinking about it casually. A co-worker and I have been trading (admittedly dark) cracks about life as an oligarch now, and while I feel no sympathy for these guys it’s still horrible, as in some cases families and children are collateral damage.
She notes that “Some two dozen notable Russians have died in 2022 in mysterious ways, some gruesomely.” Not all of them are necessarily assassinations, given low life expectancy among Russians, rampant alcoholism, high suicide rates, poor health, etc. But the sheer number of deaths, and the bizarre nature of some of them, certainly lends credence to the idea that Putin is signaling those seen as not sufficiently loyal to him.
In Russian, this business of assassination is known as mokroye delo, or “wet work.” Sometimes, the main purpose is to send a message to others: We’ll kill you and your family if you’re disloyal. Sometimes, the goal is to simply remove a troublesome individual.
Poison and (I learned a new word) defenestration — “the act of throwing a person or thing out of a window” — are popular methods, and apparently Russian assassins have a taste for the exotic. They want people to think it was a murder without leaving enough evidence for anyone to firmly conclude that it was, in fact, an intentional killing.
The deaths range in their showiness, but they’re all part of the same overarching scheme: to perpetuate the idea that the Russian state is a deadly, all-powerful octopus, whose slimy tentacles can search out and seize any dissident, anywhere.
I’ll never be a Russian oligarch, but if I were one, I’d be in hiding, with a small circle of trusted security guards and some food tasters, in a private, locked, well-stocked, one-story building.