Vladimir Putin — the ‘liternoye’ killer
The world was recently shocked by a series of inexplicable apparent “suicide” deaths of Russian oligarchs, as well as the disappearance or illness of Russian defense personnel following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-far unsuccessful invasion of Ukraine. For example, following at least five prior suicides, Vladislav Avayev, an immensely wealthy banker and government official, was found dead in his Moscow apartment, gun in hand, alongside the bodies of his wife and young daughter, all shot to death. He was described by neighbors as a “happy nerd.”
Within 24 hours, Sergey Protosenya, a Russian natural gas oligarch, was found hanged in a Spanish villa. Nearby, his wife and young daughter were hacked and stabbed to death with an axe and a knife, both wiped of fingerprints. Much evidence suggests these were murders at the direction of Putin.
In the same way that Stalin attached to Lenin, Putin climbed to power in Russia by attaching himself to famous figures like Boris Yeltsin. His first early mentor was the mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, then perhaps Russia’s strongest reformer and once a Putin-backer. After Putin’s selection as Russia’s prime minister in 1999, Sobchak was asked to describe Putin. He answered, “Putin is the new Stalin.”
Two days later, Sobchak was dead, and his two bodyguards were in critical condition from three simultaneous heart attacks, although none of the three had any history of coronary disease. The Putin era has been marked with many such poisonings and murders of other political opponents and writers. More than 20 sample suspicious deaths are collected in our new book, “The Dancer and The Devil.”
In Stalinist Russia, these were called “liternoye” killings and were secret, disguised liquidations often staged as natural deaths and suicides. NKVD (the Soviet Union’s interior ministry) defector Walter Krivitsky, who killed many for Stalin and was himself murdered in a fake suicide, famously remarked that any fool could murder someone, but it takes a true artist to stage a “natural death” from disease or suicide.
A secret CIA study for the Warren Commission, declassified and released only in 1993, concluded that there were many apparently natural, staged deaths by the KGB in Western Europe, particularly of targeted Russian emigres. The Stalin period was filled with liternoye killings, many later documented or confessed, often using the bioweapon anthrax to simulate pneumonia or curare or potassium to simulate heart failure. Sometimes suicides were staged with compelled suicide notes to provide a patina of believability.
The most prolific of the many deaths were accomplished in Paris in 1925-35 by a group of special assassins known as the Yasha Group. They posed as bakers, fish mongers and small business owners, but dealt death through bioweapons, poisons and faked suicides to many of Stalin’s enemies. In a 2017 speech to the Russian Security Services, Putin surprisingly listed the poisoners of the Yasha Group as the greatest of all Russian agents.
Putin claims his grandfather was Stalin’s cook and taster. His father was an exterminator of human beings in Ukraine. Putin has often indicated great affinity for Stalin, converting the butcher of perhaps 20 million human beings to a misunderstood, great man who made only minor mistakes in judgment because of bad subordinates.
Putin has already emulated Stalin in his invasion of Ukraine to “liberate” the country. In 1932-35, through his arrest of small farmers named Kulaks and his seizure of all grain stocks, Stalin caused the death of at least 6 million people. The Ukrainians fighting today well remember this slaughter. In addition to returning to Stalin’s killing fields in Ukraine, Vlad the Poisoner, as he is sometimes secretly called in Russia, has returned to Stalin’s pattern of liternoye killings in Moscow, Spain and elsewhere to stop opposition to his increasingly bloody and mad scheme in Ukraine.
The bloody Protosenya murders, much resembling Stalin’s murder of Vsevolod Meyerhold, the greatest of all modern Russian directors, and his wife conveys two messages. To the outside world, it preserves deniability. To every oligarch, wherever located, it warns that to defy Putin’s mad schemes leads to horrible death and their family’s murder. Very few of the few willing to die for country are willing to have their small children murdered to stop Putin.
Steeped in Stalin mythology, Putin does seem to have missed Stalin’s most important final lesson. While preparing for yet another bloody purge of his subordinates in 1953, perhaps preparatory to ultimately launching a nuclear war on the West, Stalin himself was poisoned in a liternoye killing by his underling, Lavrentiy Beria. He likely used the appropriate blood-thinner poison, Warfarin — now widely used as rat poison. Before his own later downfall and execution, Beria confided to Vyacheslav Molotov and Nikita Khrushchev and at his trial that he had saved their lives by killing Stalin.
As Putin deals death to Russian opponents of his mad Ukrainian invasion and then to many thousands of men, women and children in Ukraine, Putin would be wise to consider the symmetrical justice of Stalin’s own death.
John O’Neill, a New York Times number one bestselling author, and Sarah Wynne are the co-authors of “The Dancer and The Devil” (Regnery, April 26, 2022), a forthcoming account of liternoye murders and biowar by Stalin, Putin and Xi.
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