Russian ambassadors keep dying in mysterious ways

Russia's ambassador to Sudan was found floating dead in a swimming pool in his Khartoum home on Wednesday.

Mirgayas Shirinskiy, 63, "was found in his residence with evidence of an acute heart attack," Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, told BBC on Thursday. 

While the cause of death is initially being considered natural, since Shirinskiy suffered from high blood pressure, seven Russian ambassadors have died in mysterious ways over the last two years.

Two of them died from heart attacks, and Shirinskiy would be the third. 

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Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov killed in art gallery shooting
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Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov killed in art gallery shooting
FILE PHOTO - Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov accompanies Russian President Vladimir Putin (not seen), who disembarks from the Presidential aircraft at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (front C) poses with Russia's Ambassador to North Korea Andrei Gennadiyevich Karlov (front R) and other embassy members during a photo session at the Russian embassy in Pyongyang March 8, 2005, in this photo released in Tokyo March 11, 2005. Kim visited the Russian Embassy on Tuesday to receive a medal, presented to him on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Korea Central News Agency reported on Tuesday. JAPAN OUT REUTERS/Korea News Service IK/CN
FILE PHOTO: Andrei Gennadiyevich Karlov poses during a photo session at the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 8, 2005, in this photo released in Tokyo March 11, 2005. JAPAN OUT REUTERS/Korea News Service/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ANKARA, TURKEY - (ARCHIVE) : A file photo dated November 30, 2016 shows Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov (C) during an exclusive interview in Ankara, Turkey. Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov has been shot multiple times at an exhibition in Ankara on December 19, 2016. Karlov was delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of a photo exhibit when an armed assailant opened fire on him. The envoy was seriously wounded and was taken to hospital immediately. (Photo by Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An ambulance leaves the area near an art gallery where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot in Ankara, Turkey, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
ANKARA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 19: Turkish police secure the area outside where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot inside an art gallery on December 19, 2016, Turkey in Ankara. Russian foreign ministry confirmed the death of envoy Andrei Karlov in the attack at the gallery in the Turkish capital on Monday by a gunman shouting 'Don't forget Aleppo! Don't forget Syria'. (Photo by Erhan Ortac/Getty Images)
Pictured in this file image dated December 1, 2016 are Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russia's Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov at a meeting of the Russian-Turkish Joint Strategic Planning Group (JSPG) at the Rubi Platinum Hote in Alanya, Turkey. File Photo/Alexander Shcherbak/TASS (Photo by Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 19: Signs direct traffic as Turkish police secure the area outside where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot inside an art gallery on December 19, 2016, Turkey in Ankara. Russian foreign ministry confirmed the death of envoy Andrei Karlov in the attack at the gallery in the Turkish capital on Monday by a gunman shouting 'Don't forget Aleppo! Don't forget Syria'. (Photo by Erhan Ortac/Getty Images)
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Most notable was former Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who died of a heart attack in February in New York. The US State Department asked the New York City medical examiner's office to not release his autopsy. 

Roman Skrynikov, the former Russian ambassador to Kazakhstan, also died of an apparent heart attack in December 2016. 

Five other prominent Russians, besides the three ambassadors, have also died of apparent heart attacks in the last 14 years, Buzzfeed News and USA Today previously reported, and Russia is possibly behind dozens of other mysterious deaths outside its borders in that time. 

What's concerning here is that Russia, according to Richard Walton, Scotland Yard's former counter-terror commander, is skilled at "disguising murder" by using biological or chemical agents that leave no trace. 

Like Alexander Perepilichnyy, a former Russian financier who was about to shed light on a $230 million money laundering operation perpretated by the Russian mafia and government officials. 

His 2012 death in Great Britain has initially ruled a heart attack by the police, but an investigator later found trace amounts of Himalayan gelsemium elegans plant in his system, which can cause cardiac arrest.

Vitaly ChurkinREUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Still, natural causes could easily be the cause in any number of these cases, given Russia's demographics.

"There are simply a lot of really weird coincidences in this world,” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, an intelligence expert at the Harvard Kennedy School, told the Washington Post. 

“That said, I think there's a story here that deserves deeper investigation,” Mowatt-Larssen told the Post, adding that while "eliminating a diplomat is rare ... Putin might love the fact that his diplomats are fearful of him — he might find that quite convenient.”

Shirinskiy's death happened just before Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's planned visit to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. 

The Hague has had an international warrant out for Bashir's arrest for years over the genocide in Darfur, and Putin's invitation to the Sudanese president could indicate the Kremlin's attempt to influence the Middle East and Sub-Saharan region.

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