Sudden Russian Death Syndrome

Defenestration—a symptom of Sudden Russian Death Syndrome (SRDS)

The Atlantic, an American magazine and multi-platform publisher based in Washington, published a story on the last day of 2022 that dubbed a series of ostensibly accidental deaths and suicides of high-profile Russians, Sudden Russian Death Syndrome.

Over the weekend, Pavel Antov … a man who had reportedly expressed a dangerous lack of enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, was found dead at a hotel in India, just two days after one of his Russian travel companions died at the same hotel. Antov was reported to have fallen to his death from a hotel window. The meat millionaire and his also-deceased friend are the most recent additions to a macabre list of people who have succumbed to Sudden Russian Death Syndrome, a phenomenon that has claimed the lives of a flabbergastingly large number of businessmen, bureaucrats, oligarchs and journalists.

Antov, a member of Russia’s parliament and a sausage tycoon, had a fatal fall from a hotel window in India on Christmas Day. His best friend Vladimir Budanov, who had been travelling with him, had died of a stroke in the same hotel two days earlier.

Antov had been in the media early in 2022 when he posted to WhatsApp: “it’s extremely hard to call this anything other than terror”, referring to Russia’s air bombardment of Ukraine’s civilian suburbs and towns. He later edited the post calling it all a “misunderstanding” and emphasised his longstanding support of President Putin.

About two dozen of Russia’s oligarchs died mysteriously in 2022. They fell from windows, fell down stairs, or fell off clifftops or boats. Many experienced sudden, fatal, medical symptoms. Others have allegedly committed suicide or murder-suicide—killing their wives and children before themselves. Some even suffered from multiple symptoms of the above. While the implication is that Putin has ordered the assassinations of those whose loyalties are wavering there are also other possibilities. Russian cryptocurrency visionary, Nikolai Mushegian tweeted on 28 Oct that intelligence agencies (CIA and Mossad) were going to murder him — and was found dead on a Puerto Rico beach hours later.

Towards the end of the year, there seemed to be an increase in the frequency of falling from windows, which has been likened to a modern day defenestration.

Defenestrations of Prague—original

Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. It usually refers to a political motivated act, either as a form of protest or assassination. It derives from the Defenestrations of Prague in 1419, 1483 and 1618, which were associated with religious and political conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). These sparked several wars.

  • In 1419, seven town officials in Prague died when thrown from the New Town Hall (resulting in the Hussite War)
  • In 1483 the town Burgomaster and the bodies of seven town councillors were thrown from several buildings in the city
  • In 1618, two hundred years later, two Catholic governors and their secretary were tossed from Prague Castle by Protestants which sparked the Thirty Years’ War (the victims survived the 21 metre fall—the Catholics claiming they were saved by angels in divine intervention, the Protestants claiming they landed on a dung heap)

These incidents have become known as the Defenestrations of Prague and they define the concept historically.

Defenestrations of Prague—modern

Denfenestrations seem to have plagued the people of Bohemia into modern times. The mysterious death of Czechoslovakia’s post-war foreign minister Jan Masaryk (pictured as a young man) has never been solved but suspicions were directed to a Russian assassin.

Jan Masaryk’s body was found beneath his bathroom window on 10 March 1948. The official verdict was suicide, but Czechs believed that Masaryk, the son of the country’s first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was murdered. They assumed his moderate views had made him a threat to Moscow.

In 2004, the official verdict was amended to murder, after a police forensics expert concluded that Jan Masaryk had been pushed.

A Russian journalist, Leonid Parshin, claimed in 2006 that his mother, who had worked in Czechoslovakia as a Soviet intelligence officer after the war, knew who killed Masaryk. Parshin claimed that his mother had attended a a gathering of ex-intelligence officers where she met Mikhail Illich Byelkin, the former head of Soviet intelligence in Central Europe. When talking to him she joked that she’d worked in Czechoslovakia, but hadn’t killed Masaryk. She claimed that Byelkin replied, “I know you didn’t—because it was me who threw him out of the window.”

The claim has never been substantiated.

Sudden Russian Death Syndrome—defenestrations of Russia

There were approximately two dozen senior Russians that died in mysterious circumstances in 2022 associated with Sudden Russian Death Syndrome (or Sudden Oligarch Death Syndrome—SODS). Of these mysterious Russian deaths there are several we might call defenestrations with several others where the falls were from boats, cliffs and down the stairs:

  • Dan Rapoport—businessman—reportedly died in a fall from his apartment
  • Ravil Maganov—Chairman of Lukoil—reportedly hospitalised for heart problems and depression, then “fell out of a window”
  • Grigory Kochenov—Creative director of Agima, an IT company—fell to his death from his balcony while police officers were conducting a search of his apartment
  • Dmitriy Zelenov‚—co-founder of Don-Stroy, a construction company—reportedly felt ill and fell over a railing and hit his head, later died in the emergency room without regaining consciousness
  • Pavel Antov—founder of Vladmirsky Standart, a meat processing company, and deputy member of the Legislative Assembly of Vladimir Oblast defenestration—fell out of window from Hotel Sai International (see above)
  • Anatoly Gerashchenko—former Head of Moscow Aviation Institute—fell down a flight of stairs inside the institute
  • Ivan Pechorin—Director of Aviation of the Russian Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV)—drowned at Cape Ignatyev, Vladivostok, after allegedly falling from his boat
  • Andrei Krukovsky—General Director of the Estosadok Krasnaya Polyana, a ski resort owned by Gazprom—reportedly “fell off a cliff” while hiking to Achipse Fortress

While there is amusement in the term “Sudden Russian Death Syndrome” and it is difficult to give our sympathy to these men—oligarchs whose power came from their support for Putin—their coincidental deaths and the deaths of some of their wives and children—is nevertheless a barbarous consequence of totalitarians.