The west is understandably shocked by the depth and breadth of Putin’s brutality and war crimes in Ukraine, but we should not be at all surprised. Putin has a long history as a murderer, so wrote Masha Gessen in her chilling book The Man Without a Face – The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin – with a postscript (New York: Penguin Random House, 2012).
Here is a partial list (compiled from Gessen’s book and from Wikipedia entries) of those murdered at Putin’s command. For those interested in Putin’s overall corruption and greed, I recommend reading Masha Gessen’s well-documented book in which she paints a horrific profile of a murderous autocrat.
Viktor Borisenko, Putin’s childhood friend and classmate, described Putin and the company he kept since childhood this way:
“Thugs all. Unwashed, unshaven guys with cigarettes and bottles of cheap wine. Constant drinking, cursing, fistfights. And there was Putin in the middle of all this … if anyone ever insulted him in any way, Volodya [Vladimir nick-name] would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump – do anything at all never to allow anyone to humiliate him in any way.” (Gessen, p.48)
The following are journalists, who were investigating Putin’s crimes, and political leaders, who either were once his allies but turned into adversaries, or who were always adversaries, as well as mass killings, who were murdered at the command of Vladimir Putin:
Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov – From 2000 until his death, he was an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. He criticized Putin’s government as an increasingly authoritarian, undemocratic regime, highlighting widespread embezzlement and profiteering ahead of the Sochi Olympics, and Russian political interference and military involvement in Ukraine. After 2008, Nemtsov published in-depth reports detailing the corruption under Putin, which he connected directly with the President. Nemtsov was shot and killed in Moscow in 2015.
Marina Litvinovich – Opposition journalist. Was threatened, beaten, and robbed. In the late 1990s she created Russia’s first political website for Boris Nemtsov, at that point deputy prime minister, who (as noted above) was murdered in 2015. On February 24, 2022, as Russia invaded Ukraine, Litvinovich called for antiwar protests in Russian cities. She was detained by Russian police as she left her house.
Andrei Babitsky – Russian journalist and war reporter, who worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) from 1989 to 2014, covering the 1991 August Coup, Civil War in Tajikistan and both the First and Second Chechen Wars from behind Chechen lines. The radio correspondent was detested by Russian authorities for his powerful reports on civilian suffering and soldiers’ hardships in Chechnya which official television coverage carefully avoided. He died of a “heart attack” on April 2, 2022 in his apartment. At the age of 57, one has to wonder, given Putin’s history, whether he was murdered.
Anatoly Aleksandrovich Sobchak was a Soviet and Russian politician, a co-author of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg, and a mentor and teacher of both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. He called Putin “the new Stalin.” He mysteriously died in a resort town outside Kaliningrad, but ultimately was determined to have been poisoned with a substance smeared on his bedside lamp that was released when he turned on the light. Sobchak’s two body guards were soon thereafter poisoned (Ibid, 143).
Sergei Nikolayevich Yushenkov was a liberal Russian politician. He was a career military man, turned liberal, and shot four times in the chest in broad daylight on April 17, 2003, just hours after registering his political party to participate in the December 2003 parliamentary elections (Ibid, 129);
Arkady Vaksberg – an investigative journalist who investigated Sobchak’s death. His car was blown up in his Moscow garage, but he wasn’t in it (Ibid, 144).
Kursk submarine disaster in which most of the crew died instantly, and in the end all 118 personnel on board were killed. Vladimir Putin initially continued his vacation at a seaside resort and only authorized the Russian Navy to accept British and Norwegian assistance after five days had passed. Putin publicly said nothing about this tragedy and offered little to no solace to the families of the victims (Ibid, 164-172).
Yuri Petrovich Shchekochikhin was a Soviet and later Russian investigative journalist, writer, and liberal lawmaker in the Russian parliament. He wrote and campaigned against the influence of organized crime and corruption. His last non-fiction book, Slaves of the KGB, was about people who worked as KGB informers. He was part of an independent committee investigating the 1999 apartment bombings. Shchekochikhin died suddenly on July 3, 2003 from a mysterious illness a few days before his scheduled departure to the United States, where he planned to meet with FBI investigators. His medical documents were either lost or destroyed by authorities. The symptoms of his illness fit a pattern of poisoning by radioactive materials and were similar to the symptoms of Nikolai Khokhlov, Roman Tsepov, and Alexander Litvinenko. According to Litvinenko and news reports, the death of Yuri Shchekochikhin was a politically motivated assassination. (Ibid. 211).
The Beslan school siege was a terrorist attack that started on September 1, 2004, lasted three days, involved the imprisonment of more than 1,100 people as hostages and ended with the deaths of 333 people, 186 of them children, as well as 31 of the attackers. Gessen reports that all died at the hands of the Russian military that had no intention of negotiating with the “terrorists.” The so-called terrorists were trying to protect the children, but Russian tanks, military grenade launchers, and fire launchers let loose on the gymnasium despite efforts by the local police to stop the Russian troops from firing (Ibid, 216).
Anna Politkovskaya – Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, and human rights activist who reported on political events in Russia, in particular, the Second Chechen War. It was her reporting from Chechnya that made Politkovskaya’s national and international reputation. Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow (Ibid, 219).
The Russian apartment bombings were a series of explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999, killing more than 300, injuring more than 1,000, and spreading a wave of fear across the country. The bombings, together with the Invasion of Dagestan, triggered the Second Chechen War. Then-prime minister Vladimir Putin‘s handling of the crisis boosted his popularity and helped him attain the presidency within a few months. Russian courts ruled that the attacks were orchestrated by Chechen-linked militants, while some scholars, journalists, and politicians argued that Russian security services likely organized the bombings. Masha Gessen concluded that these bombings were the work of the secret police to enhance the politics of fear and enable Putin to take control of local governments. Putin’s aim was to maximize bloodshed and multiply fear and horror (Ibid, 217).
Chechen Genocide – Sources claim that 400,000 died, while presuming a higher number of deportees. A higher percentage of Chechens were killed than any other ethnic group persecuted by population transfer in the Soviet Union. Masha Gessen wrote that Putin was guilty of genocide of the Chechen people (Ibid, 220).
Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko was a British-naturalized Russian defector and former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service who specialized in tackling organized crime. A prominent critic of Putin, he advised British intelligence and coined the term “mafia state”. On November 1, 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized after poisoning by polonium-210; he died from the poisoning on November 23, 2006. Litvinenko knew he was poisoned, and dictated a note blaming Putin.. The cause of death was poison by polonium, a highly radioactive substance (Ibid, 223-224).
Alexei Navalny – Jailed Kremlin critic who was building a movement against Putin and was poisoned, flown to Germany for treatment, recovered, and was arrested. Now languishing in a Russian prison.
Ukraine – estimates of the deaths of Ukrainians and Russian soldiers, all of whose blood are on the hands of Vladimir Putin, are yet to be determined.