A former member of Putin’s inner circle has died violently and mysteriously in our nation’s capital.
The story has all the makings of a sleek Hollywood spy thriller. A defector from the Kremlin, a man close to the top echelons of power in Russia. A man who knew too much. And who lived the global jet-set lifestyle. Fear, international intrigue and rumors of stolen fortunes end in a fashionable hotel—with a brutal death.
For years, Mikhail Lesin had it all. He went into the mass entertainment business as the Soviet Union went into terminal decline and, unlike most Russians, he profited from the Communist collapse. In the years after the fall of the USSR in 1991, Mr. Lesin built a media and advertising empire that made him a wealthy and powerful man. By the end of that decade he entered politics, as the wealthy often do, not just in Russia.
Mr. Lesin’s star took off with the arrival of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in 1999. He entered the halls of power alongside the former KGB man, serving as his media minister from 1999 until 2004. Mr. Lesin oversaw the consolidation of most of Russia’s media under Kremlin control. To his detractors, this amounted to the slow strangulation of the independent media that appeared in the Soviet wake.
Nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his forceful ways, Mr. Lesin brought Russia’s media to heel and kept it on-message with what Mr. Putin wanted. As Russia became an increasingly authoritarian country after 1999, media control was a vital part of the formula to keep Russians happy and politically quiet. Most members of the media were willing to be bought off by Mr. Lesin, while hold-outs who valued press freedom were dealt with harshly. The lucky ones, intimidated, fled into exile while less the fortunate became martyrs—most infamously the muckraking reporter Anna Politovskaya, a harsh regime critic who was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building on Mr. Putin’s birthday.
Read the rest at the New York Observer …