A Russian journalist, Maxim Borodin, has died after falling out of his Russian fifth floor apartment window on Sunday.
Russian authorities say Borodin's door was locked from the inside and that his death must have therefore been a suicide. You may recognize the classic clue straight out of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, where it gave away that the murderer was still inside the apartment.
If even Rodion Raskolnikov was able to escape the scene of his crime unnoticed from behind a door latched from the inside, you can bet that a trained FSB intelligence operative can do it. The fact that it was locked says precisely nothing about who was still in the apartment when Borodin died. In addition, the journalist's colleagues say he was fulfilled by his work and doubt his inclination to suicide.
Second, the BBC notes that Borodin had previously expressed concern about armed men in his building. That suggests Russian intelligence efforts to scare him into silence.
Third, throwing people out of windows is a vintage Russian intelligence method for dealing with troublesome individuals. More importantly, the Russian intelligence services know that this fact is well understood by its opponents, and they thus love to use this information as a form of intimidation. For example, it is common for the frequent FSB missions to surreptitiously enter the apartments of journalists, political opponents and foreign diplomats, and to leave the windows open just to send a message.
Yet as with Borodin, or the recent employment of a KGB-origin nerve agent to the door handle of former British intelligence agent, Sergei Skripal, the Russian intelligence service has a particular love of deconstructing the notion of safety at home. It is as much about spreading terror as it is about eliminating opponents.
But why did the Russians target Borodin? I think we can assess it likely that the journalist was targeted for focusing on the activities of a Russian paramilitary organization operating in Syria. That group, known as Wagner, is a cutout or intelligence intermediary for Russia's GRU intelligence service and is tasked with ground combat operations.
In February, the U.S.-led coalition in Syria killed approximately 200 hundred Wagner operatives when they threatened U.S. controlled territory.
But while Russia remains a persistent threat to U.S. forces in Syria (especially in the context of broader U.S. objectives in that nation), Putin would much prefer to use groups such as Wagner to force the U.S. out. They fit with his broader approach to covert action and his keen interest in being able to plausibly deny culpability for operations that go wrong.
In turn, where journalists such as Borodin shine a light on Russian government control over Wagner, Putin finds reduced ability to use the group as a deniable force. And that's almost certainly why Borodin was thrown out of a window.