Russia journalist who exposed Moscow's Syria mercenaries dies in mysterious balcony fall
A Russian investigative journalist who wrote about Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria for the regime of Bashar al-Assad has died after falling a balcony, prompting speculation he was killed.
Maksim Borodin died in hospital on Sunday after falling from the balcony of his fifth-floor flat in the city of Yekaterinburg, but investigators said on Monday they were not treating the death as suspicious.
He worked for the news service Noviy Den and recently wrote on the deaths of employees of the so-called "Wagner Group", the private army Moscow is using in Syria.
In February, around 200 contract soldiers - mostly Russians - were reportedly killed during a clash with US-led forces in Syria.
The Wagner Group operates a shadowy private army in Syria with the tacit assent of the Kremlin, which has also deployed Russian regulars to back the Assad regime.
Russia has only acknowledged that five of its citizens died in that incident.
Critics say Moscow uses mercenaries from Wagner to keep official military losses in Syria low and to avoid domestic anger at home over its military intervention.
The local investigative committee has said "there are no grounds for launching a case" into Borodin death.
"Several versions are being considered, including that this was an unfortunate accident, but there is no sign a crime has been committed," it told the TASS news agency Monday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called on Russian authorities to investigate the death and not to rule out foul play.
"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," the CPJ's Nina Ognianova said.
Borodin's friend, Vyacheslav Bashkov, on wrote on Facebook that Borodin contacted him on April 11 and said that "security forces" wearing camouflage and face masks were on his balcony and in the interior staircase of his building.
Yekaterina Norseyeva, a Novy Den correspondent, told the CPJ that it was "very unlikely" that Borodin had committed suicide.
"He was going to be transferred to our Moscow bureau; he was full of plans," she said.
Russia has a disturbing record of attacks on reporters, with 58 killed since 1992, according to the CPJ.