London, February 28, 2015 (with March 11 update link)—Boris Nemtsov was a democrat and now he’s dead.
It was a hit job. Gunmen pulled up in a car on a bridge across the Moscow River, shot him in the back four times with and left his body lying face down in view of the onion domes of St. Basil’s Russian Orthodox cathedral and the Kremlin walls.
Nemtsov was one of the golden faces of newly democratic Russia in the 1990s. But the years of President Boris Yeltsin were rife with corruption, economic mismanagement, wars in Checnhya and crime. At the millennium Russians opted for despotism and Vladimir Putin.
And now, there is corruption, economic mismanagement, a proxy war in Ukraine and crime. And still, it is said, Putin is wildly popular, while people like Nemtsov who opposed all that were small voices in a repressive sea.
Nemtsov joins a sad modern list of assassinated Russian reformers and activists: Galina Staravoitova, a legislator killed outside the door of her home in St. Petersburg; Sergei Yushenkov, shot down near his Moscow apartment, was a liberal politicians who investigated whether bombs terror bombs supposedly planted by Chechens in Moscow were in fact the work of the Federal Security Service (FSB), successor of the KGB; Yuri Shchekochikhin, a journalist who criticized the FSB and corruption and died of a mysterious poisoning; Nikolai Girenko, a human rights defender, gunned down in St. Petersburg; Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian version of Forbes Magazine, shot dead in Moscow; Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who exposed vast human rights abuses in Chechnya, killed in front of her Moscow home. There are others, both in the capital and the provinces and even abroad.
When investigated, these crimes are found to be the work of lower level thugs. If there are higher ups, order-givers, involved, that is never known.
But one thing for certain: Putin has set the stage for such killings. He and his supporters rail at critics as unpatriotic. Unworthy of great Russia. Fifth columnists, tools of foreigners. When killed, they are simply unimportant and not worth the bullets. His ultra-nationalist thugish supporters will avidly point out the Jews among the critics and wonder how is it they support Nazis in Ukraine. Police harass the critics and intimidate the press, what press there is brave enough to criticize.
You can expect in the coming days fantastical stories about why someone wanted Nemtsov dead. He was involved in crime or an illicit amorous affair. Or it was meant to discredit the regime. Muslims did it over supposed insults to Muhammed. His friends did it.
Indeed, it took only a few hours for Putin’s own investigative committee to come up with a wonderland of suspicions. Here’s Vladimir Markin, head of the Investigative Committee, according to the RT website:
“The murder could be a provocation to destabilize the political situation in the country. Nemtsov could have been chosen as a sort of ‘sacral sacrifice’ by those who don’t hesitate to use any methods to reach their political goals,” he said.
“There are reports that Nemtsov received threats due to his position over the shooting of Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris. It’s no secret that both sides of that conflict have among their ranks very radical figures who take no orders from any authority,”
Other versions voiced by Markin involve Nemtsov’s business interests and a possible assault related to his personal life.
Will there be a public backlash? An anti-Ukraine war demonstration was scheduled for tomorrow. It will instead be a commemoration of long dead democracy in Russia.
Here is an instant Stratfor analysis.
And this is an interesting update from Time Magazine.