A Russian reporter investigating the deaths of Kremlin-linked mercenaries in Syria has died in a mysterious accident.
Maxim Borodin was found badly injured by neighbours on Thursday after falling from the balcony of his fifth floor flat in Yekaterinburg. He died in hospital on Sunday.
According to local reports, police said the apartment was locked from the inside and there was no suicide note. They said they were not treating the 32-year-old’s death as suspicious.
The local investigative committee, which examines serious crimes, told the TASS news agency: “There are no grounds for launching a case.”
His friend, Vyacheslav Bashkov, told the BBC that Borodin claimed to have spotted a man with a weapon on his balcony and people wearing camouflage and masks on the staircase earlier in the week.
Bashkov added that Borodin later called him back to say the men had been taking part in a security exercise.
Another friend, Paulina Andreevna, wrote in a Facebook post that Borodin had been hospitalised earlier in the month after a stranger attacked him outside his home.
Borodin wrote for a news website called Novy Den covering crime and corruption, and in March wrote about the discovery in Syria of dead mercenaries, thought to be contracted to the Wagner Private Military Company.
Thousands of people have reportedly been deployed to Syria by a contracting company believed to be bankrolled by businessman – and Vladimir Putin ally – Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was indicted by the US in February on charges that he funded the “troll factory” alleged to have tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The Kremlin has denied reports of Russian mercenaries dying in battle in Syria.
Harlem Désir, of the international monitoring organisation OSCE, said Borodin’s death was of “serious concern” and called for a full investigation. He pointed to a separate incident on the same day in the same city, in which editor and journalist Dmitry Polyanin was brutally beaten by two assailants with metal bars near his home.
Reporters Without Borders said Borodin’s death had occurred in “suspicious circumstances” and alluded to his work on “several sensitive issues in recent months.” It also called for a “thorough, impartial investigation into professional motive.”
Much of Russia’s media is controlled by the state and journalists have often complained of harassment or attacks. According to the Committee To Protect Journalists, 58 reporters have been killed in Russia since 1992.
A spokesman for the group said: “Russia has a record of brushing aside suspicious deaths of members of the press. We urge authorities on both the regional and federal level to consider that Borodin may have been attacked and that his investigative journalism was the motive.”