I was slightly embarrassed to read Western headlines about the recently assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. “KILLED ON THE EVE OF A RALLY!” “PREPARED A REPORT ABOUT RUSSIANS FIGHTING IN UKRAINE!” “MODERN AGE KIROV!”and, oh “WAS IN A COMPANY OF A UKRAINIAN WOMAN”. Peter Hitchens has a good rundown of Western misconceptions about the murder.
Truth is, there was little obvious reason for Vladimir Putin to kill his former comrade and rival. Putin is very popular with Russians, and Nemtsov, was not. That rally scheduled for March 1 was not going to be well attended; even with the leader dead maybe 50,000 (20K by official estimates) assembled in Moscow on that day.
The report compiled by Nemtsov was not going to tell us anything we didn’t already know — or anything Kremlin is not going to deny. Plus, the report didn’t die with him, and killing its author would accomplish little other than pointing a finger to it.
As for comrade Kirov, I really resent sloppy Stalin comparisons. Like sloppy Hitler comparisons (and Putin gets compared to that dictator as well) diminish significance of the Holocaust, sloppy Stalin comparisons diminish the significance of the gulags. Maybe the Russian public would very much like another Stalin, but I don’t think Putin’s got it in him.
The Russkie bear-rider had so little motive to go after Nemtsov that Russian conspiracy theories pop up like fly amanita after rain. Most Russians, naturally think it’s some sort of a false flag operation. Did Putin order the murder of a has-been politician to blame the West? He didn’t need to — the anti-Western sentiment in the Russian Federation is running strong. Similarly, current Ukrainian regime is thoroughly despised.
Some among the intelligentsia blame “the climate of hate” created by Putin. The Guardian’s Shawn Walker explains:
Nemtsov frequently appeared on lists of “traitors” published online by extremist groups, and given that many radical Russian nationalists have been fighting a war in east Ukraine for the past six months, there have long been fears that the bloodshed could at some point move to the streets of Moscow.
The well-organised hit, in one of the most closely watched parts of Moscow, of a man who was undoubtedly under state surveillance just two days before a major opposition march, does not smack of an amateur job. Assuming a jealous lover or angry fellow liberal would not be able to organise a drive-by shooting in the shadows of the Kremlin towers, the remaining options are disturbing.
If, as Peskov says, it was senseless for the Kremlin to kill someone who posed very little threat, that leaves another option that is perhaps even more terrifying: that the campaign of hate that has erupted over the past year is spiralling out of the control of those who manufactured it.
There is another possibility. Nemtsov was not the only opposition figure who found himself killed. As in all other cases, it was not too terribly necessary for Putin (presuming it was him) to eliminate any one of them. And yet, from time to time Kremlin critics find themselves offed. We can rack our pretty heads trying to figure out why would Putin need to do it, which might just be the point of it all. Maybe it’s just the VVP style: everyone *knows* it’s him, but nobody can prove it. Russia gets the message: Don’t even try.