Murdered in the moonlight of the Kremlin
Murdered in the moonlight of the Kremlin : Russian opposition leader killed on the eve of anti-Putin rally
A leading pro-western political nemesis of Russian President Vladimir Putin was, last night (28th February) gunned down by a passing car as he walked over a bridge which stands in front of the Kremlin. His death comes on the eve of an anti-Putin rally he was to lead in Moscow.
Boris Nemtsov, 55, outspoken opposition leader and former Russian deputy prime minister, was a sharp verbal critic of Putin’s “corrupt” economic and political strategies and their failure to properly enforce the civil rights of the Russian people. In recent years, Putin and Nemtsov had come to blows over the funding sources of the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia. Nemtsov produced a damning report claiming that the majority of the funding was the result of “a monstrous scam of embezzlement and kickbacks” and Putin’s“out of control, absolutely immoral” behaviour. He was also highly critical of the Kremlin’s policy on Ukraine, claiming it had strained relations between Russia and the West to a degree not seen since the Cold War era.
This morning, President Putin offered his condolences on Nemtsov’s death and ordered his top law enforcement officials to personally investigate the cause of what he suggests is a “contract killing”. However, the consequential timing of Nemtsov’s death has not gone unnoticed, with opposition activist Ilya Yashin stating his certainty that the murder was politically motivated. In the days before his death, Nemtsov was working on a report presenting evidence which he believed proved Russia’s involvement in the separatist rebellion which broke out in eastern Ukraine last year. Only two hours before his killing, he had also spoke on Russian radio to popularise Sunday’s anti-Putin demonstration. It seems Nemtsov was aware of the risks that accompanied the public nature of his regular condamnation of the Russian President. A daily target of death threats via social media, he had recently admitted he was “a little bit afraid” that his mother’s concerns that Putin would have him killed would come true.
Despite Putin’s theory of a provocative contract killing, a picture speaks a thousand words. Nemtsov’s dead body lying still with the Kremlin as the backdrop suggests a pre-medidated political message. Putin, or at least someone close to him, is a logical suspect in the opposition leader’s death. Such a suggestion would not be unprecedented since other opposition activists have previously died under suspicious circumstances, including Kremlin power broker turned Putin critic Boris Borezovsky, in 2013.
Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and opposition activist, says Putin is to blame, regardless of whether he gave direct order to kill Nemtsov. Kasparov believes it is his dictatorship and “24/7 propaganda about enemies of the state” which will have motivated the killing because under Putin, “bloodshed is the pre-requisite to show loyalty”. There is no doubt that the political ramifications of this event will be huge, but whether they will act in Putin’s favour is debatable. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky believes Nemtsov’s death will in no way serve Putin’s objectives and will merely act as a catalyst of solidarity among the opposition.
Last night’s killing speaks to a much larger issue of freedom of speech in Russia. Only a week ago, US Sen. Jon McCain spoke of how Putin has fueled an environment where “individuals are routinely persecuted and attacked for their beliefs”. One civilian who came to lay flowers at the site of Nemtsov’s death expressed his view that this was an “action aimed at terrorizing people” who fight against the current regime.
Nemtsov was popular for his good humour, charisma and quick wit, but he and other top opposition figures long have been purged from state press and steadily marginalized by the Kremlin. It will be interesting to see whether this murder fulfils its aim of planting fear in the minds of the opposition, or rather fortifies their will to act against the regime, in the wake of the “act of cowardice” which brutally ended the life of their former leader and democracy pioneer.
Anna is currently spending the fourth year of her Law degree in France, studying for a Masters in French Law at the University of Rennes. She is slightly obsessed with learning languages, having knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese and a little Russian under her belt so far. Alongside her studies, Anna tutors English to foreign students. Fascinated by different cultures and how they interlink, Anna recently took herself off to live in Morocco for a month. In her minimal spare time, Anna likes to read, run, eat, go to church, travel, discover beautiful countryside and improve her classical singing. She also believes that, in the words of Newton Faulkner, people should smile more.