Mikhail Lesin, a Kremlin Hit, a Theory, Part 1

Mikhail Lesin, former Kremlin advisor, was found dead in a Washington hotel room in November. The determinations of the Washington medical examiner were a long time coming. Quoting NBC News,

Autopsy results show that he died from “blunt-force injuries of the head,” according to a joint statement Thursday from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported by NBC Washington, but the exact manner of death was undetermined. Also contributing to his death were “blunt-force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities,” the statement said.

In street lingo, this says he was beaten to death. But quoting the Washington Post, “Dustin Sternbeck, the D.C. police department’s chief spokesman, said the case remains under investigation. He would not say whether the medical examiner’s ruling means a crime may have been committed.”

If Mikhail Lesin were a sufficiently interesting person, if he were more a good guy than he was, his somewhat mysterious death would spawn a frenzy of conspiracy theories. The error of the conspiracist is to assume that anything that possibly happened, happened. But the event is interesting enough to spawn a theory. So that I don’t have to put a qualifier in each sentence, please assume that in what follows, it is already there. What follows is not a deduction of facts, but a theory with the virtues of two kinds of consistency: with the facts, and of internal logic.

So  let us proceed. The language and conclusions are unusually cautious. The street interpretation of the coroner’s report is that Lesin was beaten to death.  Let us not hasten to conclude that the coroner’s office held back for political reasons. Forensics is an exceedingly developed science.  The corpse has doubtless been examined in almost microscopic detail, characterizing tissue injuries and post-death flows of blood. The picture of foul play is challenged by the absence of signs of forced entry. So to conclude that Lesin was beaten to death, that process, with all the physical postures Lesin assumed, as well as those of the hypothetical attacker, would need to be rigorously reconstructed.

If the reconstruction doesn’t cohere,  all that’s left are the the bruises, but not the order in which they occurred, or what Lesin and the possible assailant were doing. We could conclude that Lesin danced around his hotel room, banging into things until he was dead. This, of course, is ridiculous.

Because it is ridiculous, the coroner’s indecision has meaning. Choices:

  • There is genuine confusion in the coroner’s office. Non supportive to the theory. 
  • There is  enough to conclude that Lesin was beaten to death, but not enough to reconstruct the crime. Non supportive to the theory. 
  •  The scene has been reconstructed, but deliberately not disclosed. An interesting reason exists. Suppose it was a Kremlin job.  Regardless of whether the job was executed by a Russian state employee, or a freelancer, the Russians would want a report card. A coroner’s reconstruction of the crime serves as that report card, enabling the perpetrators to refine their techniques. Supportive to the theory. 

If you’re frustrated with the coroner’s report, so are the Russians. Quoting NBC,

The Russian embassy in the United States has repeatedly requested through diplomatic channels concerning the investigation into the death of a Russian citizen,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said…The American side did not provide us with any substantial information. We’re awaiting explanations and official information from Washington concerning the progress of the investigation.

And this is congruent with suspicion of the Russians.

The KGB had great expertise in the art of undetectable murder. Their talents have not been lost. The same goes for undetectable entry into the hotel room. In spy parlance, this is called a “black bag job.” We are almost done with the meager evidence of an actual crime. But there is one more thing.  Quoting the NY Times, “And then, in November, he was found in a hotel here in Washington, the victim, the Russian state media he had helped build said, of a heart attack.” No domestic U.S. report, from EMT responders, cops, or the coroner’s office offers it as a cause. So why did Russian media report this? There are two possibilities:

Next: Motive, and Grading the Theory.



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