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

Armin Rosen Mar 10th 2016 10:34PM

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 (RT) 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 Kremlin colleagues.

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 that Lesin had died of "blunt force trauma to the head." The report also said that 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's death. "Moscow has realized 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 Post. Dustin Sternbeck, the DC police department's chief spokesman, told reporters that the case remains under investigation, according to The Post.

Blunt injuries' killed Russian media tycoon Lesin in Washington, DC forensic data

Published time: 10 Mar, 2016 21:46Edited time: 11 Mar, 2016 00:48
[Image: 56e1f4c9c3618831288b461b.jpg]
Mikhail Lesin © Iliya Pitalev / Sputnik



Four months after the death of former Russian press minister and prominent media figure Mikhail Lesin in a DC hotel, Washington's chief medical examiner has revealed forensic data indicating that Lesin died of injuries to the head.
While initial reports following Lesin's death in DC's Dupont Hotel on November 5, 2015 indicated that a heart attack had been to blame, no conclusive official forensic data has been released until now.

A joint statement by the District of Colombia's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and Metropolitan Police Department said that the former minister's death had been a violent one, as cited by RIA Novosti on Thursday.
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[Image: 563d1126c36188b1338b45c0.jpg]Media tycoon & former Russian press minister Lesin dies from heart attack at 57
"The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has released the cause and manner of death for Mikhail Lesin...Cause of Death: blunt force injuries of the head," the statement said.
It added that "blunt force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities" contributed to the 57-year-old's death.
Nevertheless, the manner of death was still classified as "undetermined" in the official release.
Lesin's death is being actively investigated, OCME spokeswoman LaShon Beamon has said.
Meanwhile, Moscow said it is now expecting Washington to explain why Russia has not received any details from the probe into Lesin's death, despite repeated requests.
"We are awaiting the related clarifications from Washington and the official data on the progress of the investigation," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote in a Facebook post. She added that if the media reports citing the forensic statement are confirmed, Russia will send an official request to the US "for international legal assistance."
"The Russian Embassy to the United States has repeatedly sent through diplomatic channels inquiries about the progress of investigation into the death of Russia's citizen. The US side has not provided to us any substantive information," Zakharova said.
Lesin was found dead in his hotel suite. It had been reported earlier that the police arriving at the scene had found no signs pointing to an unnatural cause of death.
Lesin was considered one of the most influential figures in the Russian media landscape and is best known for serving as the press minister from 1999-2004 under President Vladimir Putin. He became a presidential media adviser in 2004 and oversaw questions relating to the development of media and information technologies until he left the post in 2009. Lesin is credited with the idea of establishing RT as an English-language television network to convey Russian positions to the international audience.
"It's been a long time since I was scared by the word propaganda. We need to promote Russia internationally. Otherwise, we'd just look like roaring bears on the prowl," he said back in 2007. In 2013, Lesin was appointed head of Gazprom-Media, Russia's largest media holding, remaining its chief until January of 2015.

Conspiracies arise

Several Western media reports speculating on the cause of Lesin's death, including one by the DailyMail tabloid, immediately surfaced. Some of the wildest claims have compared Lesin's death to that of the former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who the West believes was murdered by radioactive polonium poisoning on direct orders from the Kremlin. Lesin is also claimed to have been under constant FBI scrutiny over his assets in Los Angeles.
William Jones, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Executive Intelligence Review, told RT that the Western media would inevitably exploit the former Russian minister's death to try and implicate Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, which he believes is a "false lead."
Jones reasoned that Lesin was "a high-flier… had a lot of business interests,he was dealing with the oligarchs," and various parties might have been "going after him."
However, "the media, of course, is going out after the Russian government, going after Vladimir Putin. This is their favorite target, this is the obvious thing that they would do and this is probably a false lead in terms of what actually happened to Mr. Lesin," Jones said.
I love the way our revered media keep banging out the story that Putin/Russia killed Litvinenko. The actual evidence proves they didn't. Ditto Boris Nemtsov. The evidence surrounding his death shows quite strongly that it was an Ukranian who was responsible.

But hey, once the media have shot their messy propaganda bolt they're never going to clean up after themselves, so the lie gets repeated ad infinitum. I have seen this happen so many times it's nauseous.

So I'm treating this story as highly inaccurate and quite possibly purposely slanted to enhance the beloved anti-Putin campaign of the Neocons. There is zero evidence that Lesin was cooperating with the Feds. There is zero evidence - yet - to indicate who was responsible.

In the last analysis my guess is that in the coming days, supposing this death gets more deeply investigated, that facts will emerge that will show an altogether different culprit.

The Mysterious Death of the Man Behind Putin's Media Machine

[Image: Mikhail-Lesin.jpg]
Sergei Porter / Vedomosti
Mikhail Lesin
This article was taken from The Moscow Times archive and was first published on Nov. 11, 2015.
For a man who once shaped Russia's media sector, remarkably little is known about the last months of Mikhail Lesin's life.
A macho, "hell-for-leather guy," who as press minister from 1999-2004 broke the hold of oligarchs on Russia's media and asserted state power over the airwaves, Lesin was found dead on Nov. 5 in a Washington hotel, aged 57. According to relatives quoted by Russian media, he died of a heart attack.
A year earlier, Lesin's meteoric career had suddenly ended when he abruptly quit as head of Gazprom Media, one of the country's largest state-owned media conglomerates.
People who knew Lesin described him as a fiercely ambitious man, with the nickname "bulldozer." As head of Gazprom Media from 2013 to early 2015, he gave the impression of someone who felt "all-powerful," Vladimir Pozner, a television journalist who had known Lesin since the end of the Soviet Union, told The Moscow Times.
His beginnings were less grand. In the final years of Communist rule, Pozner encountered Lesin when he was being employed to carry briefcase-sized mobile telephones for businessmen.
But he was driven. In the late 1980s he co-founded an advertising company and swiftly became a multimillionaire. Only a few years later, he helped mastermind the slogans of Boris Yeltsin's successful 1996 run for the presidency, launching his government and state media career.
Lesin was present at the creation of Russia's state-dominated media sector. As press minister he forced media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky to cede control of television station NTV while Gusinsky sat in a jail cell. In 2005, he helped create Russia Today, now RT, a television network that broadcasts Russia's point of view in multiple languages and aims to undermine Western news narratives. Afterward, he served as an adviser to the Kremlin.
Those moves shaped Russian media. Now, state controlled TV broadcasts the government's view, and Putin, after more than 15 years in power, has an approval rating of almost 90 percent.


Most people contacted by The Moscow Times were wary of commenting on Lesin. But those who agreed to talk said he may have pushed too hard for power while at Gazprom Media, alienating powerful colleagues and falling out with Yury Kovalchuk, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin and a major shareholder in the company, from whom Lesin may have borrowed money.
In late 2014, Lesin picked a fight with Alexei Venediktov, the long-serving and well-connected editor of liberal radio station Echo Moskvy, in which Gazprom Media has a majority stake. In a dispute over the firing of one of the station's journalists, Lesin was forced to back down.
The confrontation may have been the proximate cause of Lesin's resignation, which came shortly afterward. With the brawl around Ekho, "it all fell together," said one source familiar with the situation, who did not want to be named.
"One of the main reasons was that he owed a huge amount of money to Kovalchuk, which he supposedly didn't intend to pay back," the source said.
He also underestimated his rivals, said two other sources familiar with the matter. The heads of three of Russia's major TV channels complained to President Putin that Lesin had begun behaving as if he was their boss, as he had been while press minister.
Lesin said his exit from Gazprom Media was for family reasons.

Illness and Investigation

The outcome left Lesin out of the loop, possibly with some powerful enemies, and perhaps without the support of Putin.
It was a rare error for a man who "made very few mistakes" during his career, said Pozner.
By the time he left Gazprom Media, Lesin, a heavy smoker and drinker for much of his life, was ill. Lesin lost 30 kilograms after breaking his spine in an accident in 2012, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of RT, wrote after his death. His back later became infected, forcing him to undergo a series of 13 operations that continued late into this year, she said.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Lesin's wealth was under scrutiny. In July 2014, a few months after U.S.-Russia relations were marred by Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Senator Roger Wicker requested a Justice Department investigation into whether Lesin had violated international anti-corruption and money-laundering rules.
Wicker said Lesin owned property worth $28 million in Los Angeles, where his son, Anton Lessine, works in Hollywood and has produced films including the Brad Pitt feature "Fury" and "Fading Gigolo," starring Woody Allen. Lesin's daughter also lives in the U.S., where she works for RT.
It is unclear whether the Justice Department or the FBI began to probe Lesin's affairs. Both departments either declined to comment or did not respond. But Wicker's request has fed speculation about whether Lesin was in Washington to cut a deal with U.S. authorities some say he was killed by enemies to silence him; others say his death was faked as part of a witness protection scheme to keep him safe.
People have also questioned why Lesin, who was known to live the high life of a multimillionaire, was staying at the comparatively un-luxurious, $240-a-night Dupont Circle Hotel.
An investigation into the death by the Washington metropolitan police department is ongoing.
Lesin last year replied to Senator Wicker's accusations over his wealth, telling Forbes Russia that the properties in Los Angeles found by Wicker did not belong to him, but to his children.
He was worried for them, he said, adding, "I got used long ago to not being loved."