UK: Death of Putin-critic associate suuuure looks like murder

It didn’t have the horrifying dramatic flair of the release of a super-poisonous nerve agent, but the death of Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov seemed more than just a coincidence. Glushkov worked with a former Russian oligarch and Vladimir Putin critic Boris Berezovsky, who died under mysterious circumstances five years ago. Coming in such close proximity to the assassination attempt on Russian turncoat Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, people had wondered whether Glushkov’s death might bear the marks of a Kremlin reprisal.

It may have … around Glushkov’s neck. London’s Metropolitan Police have opened a murder probe into his death, multiple outlets reported this afternoon:

The police have launched a murder investigation into the death of 68-year-old Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov.

Scotland Yard announced the move after receiving a pathologist’s report which gave the cause of death as compression to the neck.

The Met police’s counter-terrorism command, which has led the investigation from the outset, was retaining its lead role in the investigation “because of the associations Mr Glushkov is believed to have had”, the force said.

The Associated Press reports that police in the UK have taken this up as a counterterrorism probe as well, given Glushkov’s apparent “associations.” However, they also urge caution as “at this stage, there is nothing to suggest any link to the attempted murders in Salisbury.” Glushkov does not appear to have been poisoned either, they note.

Why wouldn’t Glushkov have been poisoned, if the two crimes are linked to Russia, which is still a big if in this case? For one, Glushkov wasn’t part of the intelligence community (that we know, anyway) and didn’t betray his organization. His murder might not have been intended as a message, but rather cleaning up old loose ends. Skripal’s assassination was clearly intended to send a message to Russians working in intelligence, both in its public manner and in the weapon chosen.

However, there may be other explanations for Glushkov’s murder, if that is what it turns out to be. Russian oligarchs tend to attract enemies other than Vladimir Putin, and their businesses are not always on the up-and-up. Berezovsky reportedly tried to get a couple of people killed on his way up the oligarchical ladder. He did business with Chechen warlords, who later got double-crossed by Putin, which was part of Berezovsky’s reason for opposing him. Depending on the extent of Glushkov’s involvement with these reported activities, Putin might not be the only one looking to take him out.

Still, this seems very coincidental, and most of that is old news. Much more recently, Putin’s administration tried Glushkov in absentia for allegedly stealing $123 million from Aeroflot, which Glushkov denied. Glushkov had been defending himself in a civil trial in London when he failed to show for a court day on Monday, leading to the discovery of his body. If Putin was still this much in score-settling mood with Glushkov — who had received political asylum in the UK more than a decade ago — then what’s a little neck compression between comrades, eh?

That won’t be the end of the investigations, either. British authorities have reportedly expressed interest in reopening more than a dozen deaths of Putin critics in the UK between Alexander Litvinenko and Glushkov. This may get very messy for Putin, who until this stupid stunt in Salisbury had mainly settled scores with rivals without much public notice. The sanctions that result might force the remaining oligarchs to reconsider the implications of Tsar Vlad I’s reign and respond accordingly.

Update: Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly natural causes: