BEIRUT – A Lebanese daily has further fueled the rumors swirling around the January death of Russia’s military intelligence chief, publishing an article alleging that Colonel-General Igor Sergun died in Lebanon.
In a report published on Thursday, Al-Akhbar’s Jean Aziz spoke to an unnamed diplomat based in London, who speculated on the circumstances of the intelligence chief’s mysterious death.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that Sergun had died suddenly at age 58 on January 3, 2016, but did not specify the location or cause of his death. The terse nature of the statement sparked rumors over what had happened to him, while reports in Russian media said that an acute heart attack brought on by stress had killed the high-ranking officer.
For his part, the diplomatic source told Al-Akhbar that “information in London suggests that the top Russian military and intelligence official died in Beirut.”
The source also said that he could not “rule out that his death could have been the result of a complicated intelligence security operation in which several Arab and Middle Eastern intelligence actors may have participated.”
“Moscow must have discovered some clues [related] to this matter,” added Al-Akhbar’s report, which claimed that Turkey and Russia had been on the brink of war before the recently agreed cessation of hostilities in Syria. “It is this that made Russia’s decision for confrontation with Turkey decisive and final.”
It should be noted that the diplomatic source struck a very conspiratorial tone in the article, providing a number of unsubstantiated theories on regional developments and accusing Turkey of aiming to “push matters beyond the brink of the military abyss.”
The source, however, did not go into further details on Sergun’s death or what he was doing in Lebanon.
British newspaper Financial Times reported on January 22 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had dispatched his military intelligence chief to Damascus shortly before his death “on a delicate mission.”
“The general, who is believed to have cut his teeth as a Soviet operative in Syria, bore a message from Vladimir Putin for President Bashar al-Assad: the Kremlin, the Syrian dictator’s most powerful international protector, believed it was time for him to step aside,” the daily said, citing two Western intelligence sources.
The Financial Times added that Russia had sought a “choreographed transition of power that would maintain the Alawite regime but open the door to realistic negotiations with moderate rebels.”
The British daily did not say that Sergun died on the trip, although rumors started swirling days after his death that the Russian intelligence official had passed away in Beirut.
Private US-based intelligence company Stratfor started the ball rolling on these unconfirmed reports on January 6 with remarks from a source who said he had heard “a report that [Sergun] died on New Year’s Day in Lebanon.”
“If the report that he died in Lebanon is true, it raises questions about what Sergun was doing in a country that is a hotbed for the world’s intelligence services and why the Kremlin would cover up his death abroad,” Stratfor’s report read.
NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope (@UllinHope) translated the Arabic-language source material.