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Russian oil magnate and Cold War-era spy dies in mysterious circumstances

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A Russian oil magnate who was a former spy and close to Vladimir Putin’s foreign intelligence chief has died in mysterious circumstances near Moscow, say reports.

Well-connected Viatcheslav Rovneiko, 59, was ‘found unconscious’ late at night at his home in an elite gated village. Doctors could not save him, according to a report by Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

The circumstances of his reported death were unclear although an investigation is underway. The report said ‘no signs of a violent death were found on his body’.

Rovneiko’s reported death means he would join a long list of high-profile Kremlin figures to die under mysterious circumstances in recent years.

He is believed to have been a Cold War era KGB spy working in Belgium with Sergei Naryshkin, now head of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

Well-connected Viatcheslav Rovneiko, 59, was 'found unconscious' late at night at his home in an elite gated village near Moscow. Doctors could not save him, according to a report by Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. No photo was available of him. Pictured: People are seen walking across Moscow's Red Square on Tuesday (file photo)

Well-connected Viatcheslav Rovneiko, 59, was ‘found unconscious’ late at night at his home in an elite gated village near Moscow. Doctors could not save him, according to a report by Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. No photo was available of him. Pictured: People are seen walking across Moscow’s Red Square on Tuesday (file photo)

Rovneiko's reported death means he would join a long list of high-profile Kremlin figures to die under mysterious circumstances in recent years. He is believed to have been a Cold War era KGB spy working in Belgium with Sergei Naryshkin (seen left with President Vladimir Putin), now head of the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence agency

Rovneiko’s reported death means he would join a long list of high-profile Kremlin figures to die under mysterious circumstances in recent years. He is believed to have been a Cold War era KGB spy working in Belgium with Sergei Naryshkin (seen left with President Vladimir Putin), now head of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency

He is also reported to have been close to billionaire Gennady Timchenko, seen as one of Putin’s most loyal oligarchs.

Rovneiko’s former business partner was Leonid Dyachenko, whose then wife Tatiana was the powerful daughter of President Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president.

The pair founded Urals Energy, one of several major oil players he was involved with. The company was floated in London in 2005.

He also had business interests linked to Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Cyprus, according to reports, and he was reported in 2006 to have held a Belgian passport.

Rovneiko was a graduate of Moscow’s prestigious Institute of International Relations [MGIMO], a training school for spies and diplomats.

Russian business databases showed the ex-spy as a man with no face, and he was known as highly secretive.

He was married to fellow MGIMO student Irina, 63, and their son Nikolay, 40, worked as an investment banker in London, and studied at Kingston University.

Dozens of Russian businessmen have been found dead since the start of 2022 in unexplained circumstances. 

A top Russian defence official was found dead after plunging 160ft from a tower block window last week.

Marina Yankina, 58, was a key figure in the funding of Vladimir Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine as head of the financial support department of the Ministry of Defence for the Western Military District, which is closely involved in the dictator’s invasion.

Before joining the Western Military region, Ms Yankina worked in the Federal Tax Service, and also served as deputy chairman of the Property Relations Committee of St Petersburg.

Reports say it is a suspected suicide, but this is often stated in such cases in Russia before any investigation is carried out or the facts are known.

A week earlier, Major General Vladimir Makarov – a Russian general recently fired by Putin – was found dead in a possible suicide.

On December 26, Pavel Antonov – the richest deputy of the Russian Duma (Russia’s parliament) and a Putin critic – died in India falling out of a hotel window.

Russian MP Pavel Antov, 65, who previously criticised the war in Ukraine, was found dead in India in December, having seemingly tumbled from the roof of a hotel

Russian MP Pavel Antov, 65, who previously criticised the war in Ukraine, was found dead in India in December, having seemingly tumbled from the roof of a hotel

Vladimir Bydanov, 61, died in hospital after suddenly falling ill. Indian police insisted he died of a heart attack, possibly brought about by drinking and drug abuse

Vladimir Bydanov, 61, died in hospital after suddenly falling ill. Indian police insisted he died of a heart attack, possibly brought about by drinking and drug abuse

His companion Vladimir Bidenov was found dead in the same hotel four days earlier.

Aleksey Maslov, 69, the former chief of Russian Ground Forces, died in hospital on December 25 while Aleksandr Buzakov – who had been the head of Russia’s ‘admiralty shipyards’ for a decade – died on December 24.

In July, 76-year-old Yevgeny Lobachev – a retired Major General of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation – was found dead in Moscow with a pistol nearby. 

His death was also ruled as suicide.

Other recent deaths have included the editor of a popular Russian propaganda magazine, the vice-president of Gazprombank and a senior Gazprom official.

Dmitry Zelenov, a real estate tycoon, died on December 9 in the French Riviera town of Antibes.

The oligarch, 50, was out to dinner with some friends when he began feeling unwell and tumbled down a flight of stairs, sustaining serious head injuries, according to Russian news outlet Baza and local French outlet Var Matin.

He was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to save him and his death was confirmed by the public prosecutor in the nearby municipality of Grasse the following day.

Russian oligarch Dmitry Zelenov died in France after allegedly falling down a flight of stairs

Russian oligarch Dmitry Zelenov died in France after allegedly falling down a flight of stairs

Zelenov died on December 9 in the French Riviera town of Antibes (pictured)

Zelenov died on December 9 in the French Riviera town of Antibes (pictured)

Anatoly Gerashchenko, the former head of Moscow's Aviation Institute (MAI) reportedly slipped and tumbled down a flight of stairs at the institutes headquarters in the Russian capital

Anatoly Gerashchenko, the former head of Moscow’s Aviation Institute (MAI) reportedly slipped and tumbled down a flight of stairs at the institutes headquarters in the Russian capital

MAI is one of Russia's leading scientific research universities responsible for the development of aerospace technology and is closely linked to Putin's Defence Ministry

MAI is one of Russia’s leading scientific research universities responsible for the development of aerospace technology and is closely linked to Putin’s Defence Ministry

According to Baza’s Telegram channel, Zelenov underwent surgery related to undisclosed heart problems in the weeks prior to his death, though no further information was provided. 

Zelenov was a co-founder of Don-Stroy, once one of Moscow’s most significant real estate investment and development empires.

The circumstances around the real estate tycoon’s death are remarkably similar to those of Anatoly Gerashchenko, the former head of Moscow’s Aviation Institute (MAI) who is said to have tumbled down a flight of stairs at the institute’s headquarters in the Russian capital in September.

‘On September 21, 2022, Anatoly Nikolaevich Gerashchenko, Doctor of Technical Sciences, professor, adviser to the rector of the Moscow Aviation Institute, passed away as a result of an accident,’ the organisation’s press service said. 

‘This is a colossal loss for the MAI and the scientific and pedagogical community.’

MAI is one of Russia’s leading scientific research universities responsible for the development of aerospace technology and is closely linked to Putin’s Defence Ministry.

Gerashchenko, 73, spent a lifetime working with the institute, attending the university as an engineer before working his way up to run the operation for eight years.

He had received Russia’s Medal of the Order for Services to the Fatherland, First Class, and was a distinguished professor with more than 50 scientific publications who remained on as an influential advisor after retiring in 2015.

Gerashchenko’s highly suspicious death came less than two weeks after Vladimir Putin’s point man for developing Russia’s vast Arctic resources ‘fell overboard’ while sailing off the country’s Pacific coast.

Ivan Pechorin, 39, was managing director of Putin’s Far East and Arctic Development Corporation and had recently attended a major conference hosted by the Kremlin warmonger in Vladivostok.

Pechorin fell off the side of a boat in the waters close to Russky Island near Cape Ignatiev, said Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

His body was found after a search lasting more than a day.

The corporation’s former CEO Igor Nosov, 43, also died suddenly in February, reportedly from a stroke.

On September 1, oil tycoon Ravil Maganov, 67, fell to his death from the sixth floor window of a Moscow hospital.

One report said the chairman of Lukoil – Russia’s second largest oil company – was ‘beaten’ before he was ‘thrown out of a window’, though this has not been independently confirmed.

Lukoil had previously voiced opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Maganov’s death came shortly before Putin arrived at the elite Central Clinical Hospital to pay his last respects to final Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who had died at the hospital just days earlier.

A Russian MiG 27 fighter aircraft is pictured in the courtyard of Moscow's Aviation Institute

A Russian MiG 27 fighter aircraft is pictured in the courtyard of Moscow’s Aviation Institute

Ivan Pechorin, point man for Vladimir Putin's development of the Arctic, died after 'falling overboard' into the sea from a boat near Vladivostok

Igor Nosov, CEO of the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, also died in his early 40s, reportedly from a 'stroke'

Ivan Pechorin (L), point man for Vladimir Putin’s development of the Arctic, died after ‘falling overboard’ into the sea from a boat near Vladivostok. Igor Nosov (R), CEO of the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, also died in his early 40s, reportedly from a ‘stroke’

Ravil Maganov, chairman of Russian oil giant Lukoil, died after falling from a window at Central Clinical Hospital, Moscow (pictured with Vladimir Putin in 2019)

Ravil Maganov, chairman of Russian oil giant Lukoil, died after falling from a window at Central Clinical Hospital, Moscow (pictured with Vladimir Putin in 2019)

Yuri Voronov, 61, was found dead in August

Yuri Voronov, 61, was found dead in August 

Top manager of Gazprom Alexander Tyulakov, 61, found dead in his mansion in Leninsky elite Gazprom village, Leningrad region, on February 25, 2022

Top manager of Gazprom Leonid Shulman, 60, found dead in his mansion in Leninsky elite Gazprom village, Leningrad region, on January 29, 2022

Two more deaths of Gazprom-linked executives were reported in elite homes near St Petersburg, stoking suspicions that the deaths may well have been murders

Billionaire Alexander Subbotin, 43 former top executive with energy giant Lukoil, died in May

Billionaire Alexander Subbotin, 43 former top executive with energy giant Lukoil, died in May

In July, Yuri Voronov, 61, head of a transport and logistics company for a Gazprom-linked company, was found dead in his swimming pool amid reports of foul play.

Two more deaths of Gazprom-linked executives were reported in elite homes near St Petersburg, stoking suspicions that the deaths may well have been murders.

Alexander Tyulakov, 61, a senior Gazprom financial and security official at deputy general director level, was discovered by his lover the day after war started in Ukraine in February.

His neck was in a noose in his £500,000 home in the elite Leninsky gated housing development, yet multiple reports claim his body had been badly beaten, leading to speculation he was under intense pressure from bad actors.

That came just three weeks after Leonid Shulman, 60, head of transport at Gazprom Invest, was found dead with multiple stab wounds in a pool of blood on his bathroom floor in the same gated housing community.

Billionaire Alexander Subbotin, 43, also linked to Kremlin-friendly energy giant Lukoil where he was a top manager, was found dead in May.

One theory is that Subbotin – who also owned a shipping company – was poisoned by toad venom triggering a heart attack.

And in April, wealthy Vladislav Avayev, 51, a former Kremlin official closely linked to Russian financial institution Gazprombank, appeared to have taken his own life after killing his wife Yelena, 47, and daughter, 13.

Friends have disputed reports that he was jealous after his wife admitted she was pregnant by their driver, and there are claims he had access to the financial secrets of the Kremlin elite.

Several days later multimillionaire Sergey Protosenya, 55, was found hanged in Spain, with his wife Natalia, 53, and their teenage daughter, Maria, found dead from stab wounds.

Former Kremlin official and Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Avayev, 51, appeared to have taken his own life after killing his wife and one of his daughters in April

Former Kremlin official and Gazprombank vice-president Vladislav Avayev, 51, appeared to have taken his own life after killing his wife and one of his daughters in April

Russian gas tycoon Sergey Protosenya (pictured), his wife Natalya, 53, and their teenage daughter Maria were found dead in their Spanish mansion, in Lloret de Mar, on April 19

Russian gas tycoon Sergey Protosenya (pictured), his wife Natalya, 53, and their teenage daughter Maria were found dead in their Spanish mansion, in Lloret de Mar, on April 19

Ukrainian born multi-millionaire Yevgeny Palant, 47, and his wife Olga Palant, 50, were found stabbed to death in their family house in Moscow region last week

Ukrainian born multi-millionaire Yevgeny Palant, 47, and his wife Olga Palant, 50, were found stabbed to death in their family house in Moscow region last week

He was a former deputy chairman of Novatek, a company also closely linked to the Kremlin.

As with Avayev, it is suggested this may have been an assassination made to appear as a murder-suicide.

A week prior Yevgeny Palant, 47, and his wife Olga, 50, both Ukrainian-born, were found by their daughter Polina, 20, having suffered multiple stab wounds.

An official briefing to the media claimed the woman took her own life in a jealous rage after Palant said he was leaving her – claims which were strongly disputed by the couple’s best friend. 

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