US changes account of Russian minister's suspicious death

Investigation continues as former Russian press minister’s death in Washington hotel room raises questions

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) listens during his meeting with Minister for Mass Media Mikhail Lesin (R) in the Kremlin in August 28, 2000.

Former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who was found dead on the floor of a hotel room in Washington on November 5, died of blunt force injuries to the head, US police said on Thursday.

Lesin, one of the chief architects of Kremlin’s public messaging was found unconscious on the floor of his room in Dupont Circle Hotel. He had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, the Washington Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Metropolitan Police Department said in a brief statement.

The investigation into Lesin's death is being led by Washington, DC police, US officials said on Thursday.

Lesin’s death came at a time when US and Russian relations were on the edge. Tension is increasing as both countries conduct aerial military operations in Syria with Russia supporting Bashar al Assad, US ultimatums over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Lesin’s death raises questions, as his presence in Washington amid high tensions between the two countries suggests that he may have been ready to cooperate with US authorities against some of his former colleagues, according to US media sources.

Former Russian Media Minister Mikhail Lesin gestures during a news conference in Moscow in September 20, 2000.

Lesin served as Putin's Press and Telecommunication Minister between 1999-2014. While he was minister, Lesin got Vladimir Gusinsky, who is known for his criticism of the Putin government, jailed and made him sign over control to his TV channel. Lesin also shutdown two other independent stations, TV6 and TVS, in 2002 and 2003. 

In 2005, Lesin co-founded Russia Today, a pro-Kremlin international TV station, one of the key stones of Russian overseas soft power.

At Russia Today he served as one of the chief architects of Kremlin’s public messaging.

In 2013, due to internal power struggles, he became the head of Gazprom-Media, but resigned one year later.

The media mogul also had his American investments probed by a US money-laundering investigation.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in the US said their officials had requested information regarding the progress of the investigation through diplomatic channels for the past several months.

"No substantial information has been provided. With regard to the document that has been released to the public today, we expect the American side to provide us with relevant official explanation," press secretary Yury Melnik said in an email.

TRTWorld and agencies