MINSK, Belarus — On Thursday morning Moscow confirmed that yet another Russian diplomat died far away from his homeland, raising all sorts of speculation about why so many Russian emissaries of various ranks—at least six—have given up the ghost since November.
One was shot in cold blood on camera in Turkey. One was reported dead, but wasn’t. The rest may well have died of natural causes, given the actuarial facts in the Russian Federation. Life expectancy for men is slightly more than 66, and coronary disease accounts for almost half the country’s dead.
But in a world where the Russian government is accused regularly of murdering enemies with exotic poisons, amateur sleuths are quick to surmise, without any proof, that someone may be hitting back. And the singular dearth of information about the dead makes conspiracy theories easy to spin. Were they diplomats or spies? Loyal servants of the Kremlin or traitors? Theories abounds where facts are lacking.
What’s known about the latest case is that Russian Ambassador to Sudan Migayas Shirinskiy died at his house in the country’s capital of Khartoum. The Al Arabiya television channel reported on Wednesday night, that the diplomat was found dead in the residence swimming pool. It is perhaps worth noting that the usual daytime temperature in Khartoum this time of year is well over 100 Fahrenheit.
There are more than a few Russian officials of a certain age who have been serving the state since the Soviet era, among them President Vladimir Putin, who will celebrate his 65th birthday this year.
Ambassador Shirinskiy was 62 years old. A career diplomat with 40 years of experience, Shirinskiy was an Arabist who had several foreign postings including in Yemen, Rwanda, France, and Saudi Arabia. The diplomat’s colleagues told reporters that he had problems with high blood pressure.
In February 64-year-old Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, suddenly died in New York. Some reports said that Churkin collapsed in his office, others that he suffered heart problems outside Russia’s embassy on East 67 Street.
A few weeks before that, in a truly horrifying incident, Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was killed in front of his wife and the cameras by a Turkish policeman at the opening of a photography exhibit in Ankara.
In December the body of Roman Skrylnikov, a temporary employee at the Russian consulate in Kazakhstan, was found at Skrynikov’s rented apartment in Ust-Kamenogorsk. None of the Russian reports mentioned Skrylnikov’s age, nor could anybody explain what exactly the diplomat was doing in Kazakhstan. Police did not find any sign of violence on the diplomat’s body. The cause of death was defined in the official reports, once again, as a heart attack.
The Russian consul in Greece, Andrei Malanin, was found dead in his apartment at the embassy compound in January. Malanin was 55 years old; once again, a heart attack.
That same month, the Daily Star in the U.K. picked up a Saudi report that unknown insurgents stormed the Russian embassy in Yemen and killed the Russian ambassador, Vladimir Dedushkin. The Russian ministry of foreign affairs quickly denied the story, and Dedushkin has made several public appearances since. But after the murder in Turkey, anything seemed possible—and this was shortly after the Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, died at a hospital in New Delhi at age 67 after “a brief illness.”
In May this year, a 44-year-old Russian diplomat killed his wife and daughter with a hunting rifle and then shot himself in Moscow. The only publicly released information was his first name, Alexander, and the beginning of his second: Sh.
Russian diplomats do not leave much of their life on the public record in any case, and when they pass away, their biographies grow even thinner. There is no suggestion, generally, of their habits, vanities, passions.
Russian officials in Sudan who worked with Ambassador Shirinskiy called for a doctor on Wednesday when he was found in the pool, but it was too late to save the diplomat’s life. Sergey Konyashin, a press secretary at the embassy in Sudan said that according to doctors, the ambassador died of some form of a heart failure.
Statistics compiled by the Russian health ministry show that almost half of Russians, 48.7 percent, die from coronary-related illnesses. In 2016 the life expectancy for men in Russia was 66.05 years.
“There is nothing strange about Russian diplomats dying from heart failure,” deputy editor-in-chief of radio Echo of Moscow Olga Bychkova told The Daily Beast. A senior observer of Russian politics, Bychkova does not welcome any conspiracy theories around the frequent deaths of Russian diplomats. “Just as with, say, pipefitters, diplomats die after age 40. Many Russian men do. It is just that we pay more attention to the deaths of diplomats.”