There can be little doubt that Boris Nemtsov’s murder was a
contract killing, but as to who was responsible for this, conflicting
narratives are emerging in the Russian press. Outside of Russia, suspicion
clearly falls upon Vladimir Putin, of whom Nemtsov has been a vocal critic, for
such a mode of dealing with political opposition would seem to be perfectly in
keeping with the former’s character, as well as his previous role as head of
The Russian liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta has stated
prior to his murder, he had been ‘preparing a report on the Russian Army’s
participation in the Ukrainian war,’ and that earlier in February he had voiced
concerns that he might be killed by the regime. Clearly, such a report would be
at the very least inconvenient for Putin. Moreover, Nemtsov had been organising
a protest against the war in Ukraine which is due to be held in Moscow
tomorrow. Whoever is responsible, this killing will either have a chilling
effect upon opposition in Russia, or galvanise dissident opinion, making it
more determined to bring true democratisation and accountability to the
country. Six shots, four of which hit Nemtsov in the back, may well intimidate,
but it will not kill independent thought in Russia.
, a pro-Putin paper, publicises a different range of scenarios
as motivations for the murder of Boris Nemtsov. It should
therefore come as no surprise that none of them portray Nemtsov or his supporters
in a positive light. These scenarios are:
Firstly, that Nemtsov was with a Ukrainian woman at the time
of his murder, who had recently flown from Moscow to Switzerland for an
abortion. The paper therefore floats the suggestion that Nemtsov may not have
been her only partner, and that another lover may have been behind the murder.
Where did this suggestion originate? From ‘a senior source in the
law-enforcement agencies’. This tale would therefore appear to be a piece of
pure misinformation concocted by the Russian secret services.
Secondly, it was widely known that Nemtsov had travelled to
Ukraine on many occasions and had made many contacts with the local political
and business elites whom the paper characterises as representing “the party of
war.” Izvestiya continues:
They could have provided him
with the means for destabilising the situation in Russia. In return for this money,
the Ukrainian oligarchs would have expected Nemtsov to split Russian society.
However, not only has a split not occurred, but quite the opposite – the consolidation
of Russian society. Understanding that their intended result had not been
achieved, Nemtsov’s sponsors decided to remove the politician who had not been
able to fulfil his task.
Once again, this rather outlandish suggested motive
originated with the same unnamed ‘source’.
Thirdly, Izvestiya suggested that the murder could have been
a ‘provocation’ staged by political opponents of Putin to discredit the
incumbent regime: ‘External and internal opponents may have chosen “a sacrifice”
for the sake of destabilising the situation in Russia.’ Once again, this
possible motivation was outlined by an unnamed source.
The three motives for Nemtsov’s murder suggested in the
pro-Putin Izvestiya appear to be fabrications dreamt up by Russia’s shadowy
security apparatus. They are akin to the conspiratorial narratives dreamt up by
the Bolsheviks in justification of ‘liquidating’ their opponents, and for
Putin, with his professed admiration for the political methods of the Soviet
past, ‘liquidation’ is a likely technique to which he turns when dealing with
particularly troublesome opponents (Litvenenko and Politovskaya are but two notable
figures to have suffered this fate). That Putin is said to be taking a personal
interest in overseeing the investigation into Nemtsov’s death does not bode
well for its objectivity.
Novaya Gazeta does not concur with the official explanations
being offered for the politician’s murder:
The version of events in which
this is viewed as the chance murder of a politician does not hold up. Now, it
is doomed to become a symbol of the country that we have built over the past
fifteen years. A country in which words are met with bullets, and choked with
The paper later commented:
Nemtsov’s murder therefore marks
a point of no return, in which a radical destabilisation of the internal
political situation in Russia will lead to consequences as yet impossible to
predict. Perhaps we will witness official mourning on the part of senior state
officials, and then a witch-hunt launched by the secret services and the
adoption of new emergency laws to restrict civil liberties.
The view of Novaya Gazeta
is likely to be closer to the
truth than that of Izvestiya
. With conflict in Ukraine, economic difficulties
occasioned by the sharp decline in oil prices and political assassination,
Russia is in for a rough time. Whatever happens, policy makers in the UK and
the EU should not confuse the actions of the Putin administration with the
Russian people as a whole, and thus ought to lend support to dissident voices
within Russia, to the likely democrats of the future, rather than to bullishly
persist with manufacturing a dangerous and unnecessary military standoff with Russia
, which would only serve to cement Russian public opinion behind the Putin
regime. Putin must not be permitted to play the victim card.