Before I tell you about an interesting current discovery, it’s not only Russian generals who tend to die in mysterious ways, defying every conceivable statistical pattern. In the past at least, their Eastern European colleagues used to join the fun.
For example, the last two months of 1984 saw the demise of the Defence Ministers of five (5) Warsaw Pact countries, including the Soviet Union. The generals all died of cardiac arrest.
Would it be preposterous to suggest that such a concentrated outbreak of fatalities bucked statistical odds?
Assuming that the sudden epidemic of cardiac arrests among those generals wasn’t entirely coincidental, one is entitled to ask questions, such as why and who.
The historical context helps in venturing a guess or two. For the mid-eighties was the time when power in the Soviet Union was passing from the Party to the KGB, a process later called glasnost and perestroika.
The Soviet army was the KGB’s traditional rival, not to say mortal enemy. ‘Mortal’ isn’t a figure of speech here, for both sides played for keeps.
For example, in 1937-1940 the secret police killed tens of thousands of army officers, including three out of the five marshals. The army won the next round, by purging the secret police in 1953-1955, with tanks bringing Moscow to a standstill.
In the 1980s the pressure came to a head: the KGB was reaching not just for huge power, but for all of it. This message was communicated unequivocally in 1982, when the KGB chief Andropov became Secretary General, dictator for all practical purposes.
It was he who decided to act on the ideas first put forth by his mentor Lavrentiy Beria, the secret police chief murdered in 1953 following a coup in which the army played a decisive role. Enter perestroika, developed to its logical end by Andropov’s protégé Gorbachev.
For obvious reasons the army felt uneasy about that development, and of course what happened in the Soviet Union was faithfully mirrored in its satellites. The armies throughout the communist bloc were restless, the secret police typically ruthless.
The spate of 1984 cardiac arrests among Defence Ministers must have been a visible result of that invisible struggle, at least this is the only way I can make sense of the attendant statistics.
And now the Russian political scientist Andrei Illarionov has released some captivating new data.
He tabulated every death of a Russian general from 1991 to 2015, and the pattern rings 1984 bells. Altogether 42 generals died during that period – with only three of the deaths possibly attributable to natural causes.
The rest are mostly suicides, along with traffic and other accidents, all easy to stage. What leads to this subversive thought is the curious distribution of those deaths from year to year, with statistical probabilities again fleeing for their lives.
In the first 11 years of the observed period, from 1991 to 2001, only nine Russian generals died, less than one a year. Yet in the very next year, 2002, the curve peaked to nine dead generals – as many as in the previous 11 years combined.
In the subsequent five years, to 2007, only one general died, but then the tempo picked up noticeably. In 2008-2013 15 generals went to that great battlefield in the sky, an average of 2.5 a year.
Then, in 2014, another peak came, with six generals dying that year. Another three deaths followed in 2015.
Why such statistically improbable peaks in 2002 and 2014?
The first of these years saw the culmination of the Second Chechen War, started by Putin to consolidate his power, or rather that of the KGB junta he fronts.
One could assume that those generals died in battle, but that assumption would be wrong. For 2002 was the year when the army ceased operations in Chechnya, with the relay baton passing to the KGB and Interior Ministry special units. Putin’s storm troopers, in other words.
Thus the KGB (under its new moniker) was superseding not only all civil authority (at present 85 per cent of Russia’s top government officials come from the KGB/FSB), but effectively military authority as well.
It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of the possible to imagine that fighting generals resented that development, and that Putin resented their resentment. A conflict was in the air, which by the looks of it Putin either preempted or won.
The second outburst of senior officers’ mortality, in 2014, coincided with the predatory war against the Ukraine, with the army again playing second fiddle to FSB troops and paramilitaries. Again it’s easily conceivable that some generals were unhappy, and the unhappiest of them couldn’t be allowed to live.
It’s a truism that statistics often lie. That may be, but at times they do hint at the truth. In this case, the truth is gruesome.
And yes, 2016 is only a couple of weeks old, but Colonel-General Igor Sergun, head of Russia’s military intelligence, has already died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 58.