A former top aide to Vladimir Putin died of 'blunt force trauma' at a DC hotel

Putin and mikhail lesinWikimedia/Russian Presidential Press and Information OfficeVladimir Putin shakes hands for Mikhail Lesin, Russia’s former Press Minister, in an undated photograph.

Mikhail Lesin’s November 2015 death in a Washington, DC, hotel was already mysterious.

The former Russian press minister and founder of the English-language television network Russia Today had been one of the chief architects of the Kremlin’s public messaging. That was before Lesin quit as head of state-owned Gazprom Media amid an internal power struggle, and a US money-laundering investigation probing the media mogul’s American investments.

RT attributed Lesin’s death to a heart attack. But his mere presence in the US capital amid historic levels of tension between Washington and Moscow, and in light of the federal investigation into his finances, suggested that he may have been ready to cooperate with US authorities against some of his former colleagues in the Kremlin.

Thursday brought new developments into the circumstances surrounding Lesin’s death. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the Washington, DC, medical examiner’s office determined Lesin had died of “blunt-force trauma to the head.” The report also said he “suffered injuries to his neck, body, and upper and lower extremities.”

The incident adds to a number of high-profile suspicious deaths tied to powerful Russian figures. They include the former deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov, who was killed just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin’s walls in February 2015, and Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who received a lethal polonium dose from a Russian operative in London in 2006.

“Mr. Litvinenko’s killing … was primarily about silencing critics and scaring opponents rather than eliminating one man,” New York University professor Mark Galeotti wrote in The New York Times after the January publication of a British government investigation blaming Kremlin agents for Litvinenko death. “Moscow has realised that in the age of the Internet and 24-hour news cycles, there are safer ways of doing the same thing.”

In Lesin’s case, family members told Russian media that they believed he had suffered a heart attack, according to The Washington Post. Dustin Sternbeck, the DC police department’s chief spokesman, told reporters that the case remains under investigation, according to The Post.

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