The sheer frequency of unusual deaths befalling so many prominent businessmen who have criticised Putin is bound to lead to questions. Even without pointing fingers, it is hard not to spot a pattern.
Incidents like these highlight why Western businesses that fled Russia at the start of the year won’t return even after the war in Ukraine inevitably ends. It is simply an unsafe place to do business.
Back when Putin were merely an aide to Anatoly Sobchak we all faced that calculation. The “reorganisation” of Russian business life was markedly violent.
But as non-Russian – OK, “Western” non-Russians – we were distinctly privileged. Sure, we faced the usual low level bribe and thuggery. Got mugged by the police sorta thing. The usual bribery to get anything done. But the vast violence was really pretty much restricted to the Russian side of the business world. The metals world was not just thuggish it was actually warlike at times. Pitched battles in at least one case I know of. But no westerners were ever shot. The one westerner I know who was shot was in the hotel business and he was being very, very, brave in that Yes Minister sense. Vastly too much so. As he himself knew in fact.
The fact is that while Russian society, as a random wandering around, was dangerous and it still is, the business world was pretty safe for foreigners. Precisely and exactly because they were foreigners.
This is hardly new information. Bob Dudley, the former chief executive of BP, famously had to flee Russia in 2008 as a result of what the company termed an “orchestrated campaign of harassment”.
When Dan Rapoport, another critic of the war, fell to his death from a luxury apartment building in Washington DC in August, campaigner Bill Browder called the circumstances “extremely suspicious.” He should know – he’s been warning about the dangers of doing business in Russia for more than a decade.
Browder was a hedge fund manager who until 2005 was a major investor in Russia. His former lawyer in the country, Sergei Magnitsky, died in prison in 2009 after exposing a massive government fraud. Browder says his friend was denied medical treatment.
Good examples of the point. No Russian oil exec who fell foul would be harassed, they’d be dead. Magnitsky was indeed appallingly treated – murdered likely. Any western lawyer would be advised – fairly strongly – to get on a plane.
Different folk get treated differently.