It was the ride of Saak Albertovich Karapetyan's life. It also was his last as Vladimir Putin apparently has claimed yet another victim in his relentless campaign to assassinate those he deems enemies of his autocratic regime. But Karapetyan is different because of his insider status and intimate knowledge of the Russian president's ill deeds, including his role in stealing the 2016 election for Donald Trump.
A deputy attorney general, Karapetyan is believed to have directed the foreign operations of Natalia Veselnitskaya, another Kremlin insider who met senior Trump campaign officials at the notorious June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Karapetyan, 58, may have become expendable after being indicted by a Swiss court in January for attempting to enlist a Swiss law enforcement official as a virtual double agent in connection with Veselnitskaya's efforts to get rid of the Magnitsky Act. A large amount of the funds that Putin foe Sergei Magnitsky had said were stolen in a massive tax fraud scheme are believed to have made their way to Switzerland, information gleaned by another Putin victim, Alexander Perepilichnyy, who died in November 2012 apparently after being poisoned, a favorite Putin-directed modus operandi. Magnitsky had died in 2009 in prison after being tortured.
According to Russian media reports, Karapetyan was among three people killed on Wednesday night when their Eurocopter AS530 helicopter crashed into a forest during an "unauthorized flight" in the Kostroma region, northeast of Moscow.
Meanwhile, Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who enticed Trump campaign coffee boy George Popadolpoulos with the disclosure that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails -- perhaps the first such reference to them whispered to drooling campaign officials -- disappeared on November 2, 2017 from the private university in Rome where he taught and remains missing.
The 57-year-old professor's cellphone went dead, his email account disappeared and he has not sent any WhatsApp messages, his frequent means of communication with his Ukrainian fiancee, identified in media accounts as Anna, who has a daughter she says he fathered. It is probable that Mifsud was "played" by Russian intelligence services, which frequently have made use of non-government cut-outs to achieve foreign policy objectives.
Mifsud's disappearance -- probably not coincidentally -- occurred three days after the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced that Papadopoulos had been indicted, pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to FBI agents and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's Russia scandal investigation. Prior to his sentencing to 14 days in prison in September, Papadopoulos also was accused of helping Mifsud leave the U.S. without being detained.
Mifsud is now presumed dead and has been described as such in court papers.
There have been over 30 other possible victims of Putin's use of assassination as a political weapon against journalists, human rights activists, members of opposition political parties and spies who have defected to the West. They often are carried out by hitmen for the FSB, a state security agency headed by Putin until he became prime minister and then president, and sometimes by mobsters loyal to Putin.
The victims and almost-victims include:
November 20, 1998: Parliament member GALINA STAROVOITOVA, a pro-democracy advocate, is shot to death in the hallway of her St. Petersburg apartment building.July 16, 2000: Journalist IGOR DOMINKOV, who had written of malfeasance and bribery in the Putin regime, dies of injuries suffered in a beating in the entryway of his Moscow apartment building.August 1, 2002: Parliament member VLADIMIR GOLOVLEV, a pro-democracy advocate, is shot dead on a street near his Moscow home while walking his dog.
July 3, 2003: Journalist YURI SHCHEKOCHIKHIN, a critic of Putin atrocities in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, dies from an apparent poisoning with a radioactive material shortly before his scheduled departure to the U.S. where he was to meet with FBI agents.
May 20, 2004: Uzbek diamond dealer EDUARD NEKTALOV, who owned a condo in Trump World Tower and was being investigated for Russian money laundering, is shot dead on Sixth Avenue after rumors circulate that he is cooperating with federal authorities.
July 9, 2004: American journalist PAUL KLEBNIKOV, who investigated official corruption for Forbes magazine, is shot on a Moscow street by assailants who fire from a slow-moving car. He dies a short time later when the hospital elevator taking him to an operating room breaks down.
Early September 2004: Journalist ANNA [PLITKOVSKAYA, a leading critic of Putin atrocities in Chechnya, falls violently ill after drinking poison-laced tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant. She survives.
September 24, 2004: ROMAN TSEPOV, a former KGB officer turned businessman and ostensible Putin ally, falls violently ill after visiting a KGB office on September 11 and drinking tea laced with a radioactive substance.September 14, 2006: Russian Central Bank executive ANDREI KOZLOV, who had revoked the licenses of several banks complicitous in money laundering, and his chauffeur die from gunshot wounds fired by gunmen on a Moscow street.October 7, 2006: POLITKOVSKAYA is fatally shot in the head, chest and shoulder at point-blank range in an elevator in her central Moscow apartment block. The assassination occurs on Putin's birthday.
October 16, 2006: An attempt in London to poison ALEXANDER LITVINENKO fails. The former FSB officer specialized in tracking Russian organized crime and had become a Putin foe.
November 11, 2006: LITVINENKO becomes violently ill after being poisoned by a large dose of a radioactive substance that is slipped into his tea at an upscale London hotel.
November 23, 2006: LITVINENKO dies.
November 24, 2006: Pro-democracy advocate EGOR GAIDAR, a former Starovoitova associate, becomes violently ill after being poisoned with an unknown substance while attending a conference in Ireland. He recovers.
March 2, 2007: Journalist IVAN SAFRONOV, who had written critically of the Russian military, dies in a fall from the fifth floor of his Moscow apartment in what is suspected to be a murder made to look like a suicide.January 23, 2009: STANISLAV MARKELOV, a human rights lawyer and Putin critic, is gunned down on a street near the Kremlin.July 15, 2009: NATALYA ESTEMIROVA, a human rights activist and Putin critic, is abducted from her apartment in Grozny, capital of Chechnya. Shot in the head and chest, her body is discovered 50 miles away in neighboring Ingushetia.November 16, 2009: SERGEI MAGNITSKY, a lawyer and auditor who uncovered a $230 million web of official corruption and tax fraud, dies in a Moscow prison, where he had been held without trial for 11 months, after allegedly being beaten and tortured by Ministry of the Interior officers.
November 10, 2012: ALEXANDER PEREPILICHNYY, a businessman and whistleblower who had left Russia after alerting Magnitsky to the corruption scheme, collapses and dies while jogging near his home outside of London. The death originally is attributed to natural causes, but traces of gelsemium, a chemical from a poisonous plant, are later found in his stomach.
March 23, 2013: BORIS BEREZOVSKY, an oligarch and Putin foe who was given political asylum in Britain, is found dead by a bodyguard, a ligature around his neck, in a bathroom in his Berkshire home. The death is made to look like a suicide but is suspected to be murder.
December 8, 2014: SCOT YOUNG falls from the fourth floor of a London apartment and impales himself on a railing. Police rule the death a suicide after a cursory investigation, but others believe Russia was involved because of Young's business contacts with enemies of Putin.
February 27, 2015: BORIS NEMTSOV, the leading anti-Putin democracy advocate, is fatally shot four times in the back as he walks on a bridge near the Kremlin.
May 26, 2015: VLADIMIR KARA MURZA, an opposition politician and outspoken Putin foe, suddenly takes ill during a meeting in Moscow. He suffers multiple organ failure and is diagnosed as having been poisoned. He eventually recovers.November 5, 2015: MIKHAIL LESIN, a former top Putin media adviser, is found dead in his Washington hotel room with blunt-force injuries to the head, neck and torso. He was scheduled to meet with Justice Department officials the next day.
November 8, 2016: SERGEI KRIVOV, widely believed to be a counter spy who coordinated efforts to prevent U.S. eavesdropping, suffers fatal blunt force injuries after falling from the roof of the Russian consulate in New York. Russian officials claim he died of a heart attack.December 21, 2016: YVES CHANDELON, the chief NATO auditor responsible for investigating Russian money laundering, is found in his car in a small Belgian town with a wound to the head in what may have been a murder made to resemble a suicide.December 26, 2016: OLEG EROVINKIN, a former FSB spy and possibly a key Steele dossier source, is found dead in the back seat of his chaffeur-driven Lexus in Moscow. Intelligence sources believe he was assassinated as part of an effort to wipe out a U.S. espionage network.February 20, 2017: Russian U.N. Ambassador VITALY CHURKIN, widely believed to be a spy, dies in a New York hospital after suddenly becoming ill.March 2, 2017: ALEX ORONOV, a naturalized U.S. citizen, dies under unexplained circumstances in his native Ukraine. He reportedly helped set up a meeting involving Trump lawyer Michael Cohen regarding a back channel Ukraine peace plan.March 21, 2017: NIKOLAI GOROKHOV, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family and key witness for the U.S. government in a money laundering suit against a Russian holding company, falls or is thrown from the 4th floor of his Moscow apartment. He is seriously injured but survives.March 23, 2017: DENIS VORONOKOV is shot to death in Kiev, Ukraine, after being hunted by the FSB. The former Russian military colonel and Putin insider was preparing to testify about the inner workings of the Putin regime.
April 15, 2018: MAXIM BORODIN, a Russian journalist who recently wrote about Russian mercenaries in Syria, dies from injuries sustained after falling from his fifth-floor balcony in Yekaterinburg on April 12. Authorities say the death was a suicide, but Borodin had told friends his flat had been surrounded by security men a day earlier.
May 29, 2018: ARKADY BABCHENKO, a fierce critic of the Putin regime and prominent Russian war correspondent, shows up alive at a press conference in Kiev one day after he was reportedly shot and killed in the same city. Ukraine's chief of security services, Vasyl Gritsak, said Babchenko had faked his own death as a ruse to foil a real plot against his life by the Kremlin.
July 31, 2018: Three Russian journalists -- ORKHAN DZHEMAL, ALEXANDER RASTORGUYEV and KIRILL RADCHENKO -- investigating ties between Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who funded the IRA, and Russian mercenaries known as the Wagner Group are found dead in the Central African Republic, reportedly after being assassinated.The use of assassination as a political tool in Russia has an inglorious and centuries long history. But there has been an extraordinary level of violence targeting Putin's opponents in the reemergent Russian Federation, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The frequency of state-sanctioned murder has increased under Putin following a relative lull after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. While never directly linked to any of these murders, Putin's proxies have dutifully carried out assassinations on those he deems enemies of his autocratic regime, notably journalists, human rights activists, members of opposition political parties and spies who have defected to the West, notably Alexander Litvinenko, who sought asylum in Britain in 2000 after fleeing Russia by way of Georgia and Turkey.
Then there was the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agents, in Salisbury, England. He survived.
The Litvinenko and Skripal hits were carried out by FSB officers.
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