A journalist who had been investigating the deaths of alleged Russian mercenaries in Syria died in a hospital on Sunday after falling from his balcony in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
Maxim Borodin, a 32-year-old reporter for the Yekaterinburg-based Ria Novy Den news agency, was known for his coverage of high-profile corruption and criminal cases. He fell from his fifth-floor balcony on Thursday, The New York Times reported, and neighbors found him critically injured at the foot of the building. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died from his injuries three days later.
A spokesman for the interior ministry for the Sverdlovsk region told CNN that Borodin's apartment was found locked from the inside, suggesting that "no one exited the apartment and most likely there were no strangers in there" at the time of his fall.
Local investigators said they were considering several possible causes of death but that no crime was suspected at this time, the BBC reported.
Some of Borodin's friends and colleagues, however, have expressed skepticism at this assessment. One friend, Paulina Andreevna, said in a Facebook post that Borodin had been hospitalized earlier this month after a stranger attacked him outside his home. Last October, an assailant reportedly hit Borodin over the head with a steel pipe shortly after he'd reported on a controversial movie about Tsar Nicholas II.
"[Borodin's] work was very dangerous," friend and local civil rights activist Vyacheslav Bashkov told The Guardian this week. "He was one of the best."
Bashkov said Borodin had contacted him early in the morning on the day before his fall to say that men in "camouflage and masks" were surrounding his apartment. He reportedly described "someone with a weapon on his balcony" and others "on the staircase landing."
But Borodin later called back to say he may have been mistaken about the masked men and that they were security personnel taking part in a training exercise, Bashkov said.
Paulina Rumyantseva, editor-in-chief of Ria Novy Den, said Borodin's fall could have been the result of foul play or an accident. But suicide, she said, was an unlikely cause.
"As Maxim had big plans for his personal life and career, there is nothing to support a verdict of suicide," she told CNN.
As an investigative journalist, Borodin had written about many sensitive subjects over the course of his career. Most recently, he'd reported on the February deaths of alleged Russian mercenaries linked to a shadowy paramilitary organization known as the "Wagner Group" in Syria.
Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin is suspected of bankrolling the Wagner Group. The U.S. indicted him in February on charges of backing the so-called troll factory that spearheaded Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Thousands of Wagner mercenaries are allegedly involved in military operations in Syria. In February, dozens - or possibly hundreds - of them reportedly died in a clash with U.S. troops near the town of Deir al-Zour. As the New Yorker noted, it was the first time in half a century that Russian and U.S. military forces had engaged in direct combat.
Media watchdog groups have called for an impartial investigation into Borodin's sudden death.
On Monday, Harlem Désir, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's representative on freedom of the media, expressed shock and "serious concern" over what had happened.
Journalism is a perilous profession in Russia, a nation considered among the worst in the world for press freedom.
According to the European Federation of Journalists, more members of the media have been murdered in Russia than anywhere else in Europe in recent decades. Between 1990 and 2015, 346 journalists and media staff have been killed on the continent; one-third of these murders happened in Russia, the group said.
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