At least two mysterious Russian deaths on UK soil warrant further investigation by the police and security services, an expert on the Kremlin’s dark arts has said.
Boris Volodarsky said that he is ‘truly surprised’ that the case of former oligarch Boris Berezovsky in particular has not been ‘properly investigated’ by British authorities.
The Kremlin critic was named as being among 14 suspected ‘Russian hits’ on British soil according to an in-depth investigation by Buzzfeed in 2017.
The deaths fall within a wider pattern of prominent Russians meeting untimely endings, which media reports suggest include at least 13 cases since Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
On British soil, the only fatal case which has been firmly linked to the Kremlin is that of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who was poisoned with radioactive polonium in London.
Last December, Metro.co.uk reported how the ex-Federal Security Service (FSB) officer had predicted before his death in November 2006 that Ukraine would suffer at the hands of ‘hooligan’ Putin.
But suspicions remain that the Kremlin may have been involved in assassinating other prominent Russians in the UK.
Berezovsky, one of Russia’s richest men in the 1990s, was found dead with a ligature around his neck at his wife Galina’s home in Ascot, Berkshire.
The 67-year-old tycoon, a fierce Putin critic, had been living in self-imposed exile in the UK before his body was found in March 2013.
A coroner recorded an open verdict the following year, concluding that it was ‘impossible to say how he died’.
Four months before doctors confirmed Berezovsky’s death, Alexander Perepilichny, a wealthy businessman and whistleblower who had been helping to expose a money-laundering scheme in Russia, collapsed while jogging near his home in Weybridge, Surrey.
A coroner ruled that the 44-year-old died of natural causes but could not ‘eliminate all possibility’ of foul play.
‘I am convinced that both were murdered by Russian secret services,’ said Volodarsky, a former captain in Russia’s special forces, the GRU Spetsnaz.
‘We know so little about these cases because the British government doesn’t want us to know more, which I think is quite right.
‘But I was truly surprised that the death of Berezovsky was not properly investigated and instead of a public inquiry — he was a former deputy secretary of the Security Council of Russia, a very high post — there was a simple inquest in the province.
‘Even there, in Berkshire, coroner Peter Bedford had no way out but to record an open verdict.’
Volodarsky said he was aware of Buzzfeed’s investigation into the suspected ‘Russian hits’ on British soil but had not studied the other cases sufficiently to draw conclusions.
Now an author and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he spoke to mark the launch of a new book about the Litvinenko murder.
Volodarsky offers the intriguing premise that the case is not as categorical as it seems.
‘There is no espionage operation that represents a “shut and closed” case,’ he said. ‘My whole work is an attempt to prove that there can be no definitive story involving secret services.
‘Every intelligence operation that becomes public knowledge, and there are many clandestine operations that have been carried out in such a way that they have gone unnoticed by anybody, must after ten, twenty or fifty years be reassessed.’
The former military intelligence officer brings his inside knowledge of the Litvinenko case, the shadowy protagonists and the KGB’s long-established poison factory to bear in The Murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
In 2016, a public inquiry concluded that the hit, which has been turned into an ITVX dramatization, was carried out by Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, probably with Putin’s approval.
‘In my book, I disagree with almost every conclusion regarding the Litvinenko murder made by the Metropolitan Police and the public inquiry presented in its January 2016 report,’ Volodarsky said.
‘In my view, there is only one, and I stress only one quite obvious thing — that it was a Russian operation. I also demonstrate that without doubt Putin personally sanctioned this assassination. All the rest is new and I very much hope that former and acting officers of SO15 and many other people who were involved in this case will find time to read it.’
The Kremlin’s murderous reach has also been identified in the 2018 Novichok attack on former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
The British government has said that the Russian state was ‘culpable’ for the attempted murder of the pair, who recovered after the incident.
Thames Valley Police have said that there is no evidence of third-party involvement in Mr Berezovsky’s death.
A search of his wife’s property at the time by chemical, biological and nuclear experts found ‘nothing of concern’, the force said at the time.
Thames Valley Police told Metro.co.uk this week that it wouldn’t provide a response to Volodarsky’s comments.
Surrey Police maintains that Mr Perepilichny’s death was not suspicious and that it carried out a ‘complex, protracted and challenging investigation’.
At the conclusion of the inquest in December 2018, coroner Nicholas Hilliard found that it was ‘more likely than not that he died of natural causes’
Responding at the time, Detective Chief Superintendent John Boshier said: ‘This supports the conclusion reached by Surrey Police in 2013 following a full investigation which included two post-mortems and a very extensive range of toxicology tests. No evidence of any third-party involvement in Mr Perepilichny’s death was found.’
The focus of suspicions around possible Kremlin-orchestrated foul play has switched to Russia since Putin ordered his catastrophic full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Various Western media reports have identified upwards of 13 high profile Russians who reportedly died by suicide or in unexplained accidents.
One of the latest cases is that of veteran diplomat Alexander Nikolayev, who reportedly died on July 6 in Moscow, three weeks after being brutally beaten near his country house in the Tver region. The 72-year-old was ‘covered in blood, haematomas and bruises’, and unable to breathe without a ventilator after the violent attack, his family claimed.
His death followed that of Kristina Baikova, the vice president of Russia’s Loko-Bank, who reportedly fell to her death from her Moscow apartment.
The 28-year-old executive is said to have died instantly after plunging from the 11th floor of the building on June 23.
An investigation into her death was launched.
Volodarsky, who currently works as an independent intelligence analyst in London and Washington, said the truth of such cases is likely to stay buried under Russian spin and propaganda.
He referenced the case of Ukrainian statesman Yury Kravchenko, who died near Kyiv in March 2005, reportedly after suffering two gunshots.
‘We have no information apart from rumours, hearsay and what the Russian media is reporting,’ he said.
‘Nothing of this can be taken for granted so no conclusion can be made.
‘Maybe somebody really committed suicide and, like the Ukrainian interior minister Yury Kravchenko, managed to shoot himself twice — first in the chin and then in the temple – or maybe somebody was thrown out of the window, we do not know.’
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