Putin Blames Enemies of the State for Nemtsov’s Murder

 

Boris Nemtsov, a leading Russian opposition figure, age 55, was shot dead Friday night as he walked across a bridge connecting the Kremlin with the embankment district of central Moscow. The youthful and handsome Nemtsov was accompanied by his 23-year-old girlfriend, a Ukrainian model. According to initial BBC reports, he was shot four times by several men emerging from a white car and then speeding away. Nemtsov’s death was confirmed at the site by an aide, who reported that Nemtsov’s corpse lay in front of him on the street, surrounded by police. Contacts in Moscow reported that the murder scene was mobbed by mourners bringing flowers. Nemtsov’s female companion was taken away to be interrogated at police headquarters. (See video) Let’s see how long she’ll remain in custody.

Nemtsov served as Deputy Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin. He was also mayor of Nizhny Novgorod before joining the liberal opposition to Putin. During his tenure under Yeltsin, Nemtsov was considered a possible successor, but handicapped by the fact that he was Jewish.

Nemtsov had expressed fears of being murdered shortly before his death. His last tweet to the people of Moscow read:

“If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March.”

Nemtsov’s murder has the typical features of a Russian contract killing, similar to the still unsolved murder of investigative journalist Anna Politovskaya. The killing of a prominent opposition figure in central Moscow cannot be passed off as a random act of violence. Even the Kremlin identified the murder as a contract killing.

A possible motive, other than being a thorn in the Kremlin’s side: Opposition figure (and Putin’s goddaughter), Ksenia Sobchak, said that Nemtsov was preparing a report on Russian troops in Ukraine at the time of his death – a subject that is strict taboo under Putin.

The Putin propaganda machine immediately began its spin. A Kremlin spokesman stated shortly after the murder that Putin regards “this cruel murder (as having) every sign of being a contract killing, which has a solely provocative nature.”  In a condolence telegram to Nemtsov’s 86-year-old mother, Putin vowed to do “everything to ensure that the perpetrators of this vile and cynical crime and those who stand behind them are properly punished.” Putin’s notorious star-chamber Investigative Committee spoke of Nemtsov as a “sacrificial victim” of those who oppose the state and echoed the murder as a “provocation” against the state. Kremlin-friendly media darkly identified his companion as a Ukrainian model 30 years his junior, as if suggesting Kiev had something to do with the murder. The Investigative Committee, noted for its indictments of dissidents on trumped-up charges, also revealed it was looking for a Ukrainian or even Islamic extremist connection.

The Kremlin’s obvious strategy: Kick up the dust of confusion. Surely, they say, the “provocation” was instigated by Putin’s enemies (Take your pick: Ukraine, NATO, the CIA, “hohol” Nazis, ISIS, etc.). Putin at least had the sense not to dismiss Nemtsov, like he did Politovskaya, as an insignificant person. Instead Putin damned Nemtsov with faint praise as someone “who occupied significant posts in a difficult time of transition.”

The unfortunately predictable reactions of Western leaders only contribute to the Putin narrative of sinister forces out to get the Kremlin. Angela Merkel called on President Putin “to ensure that the murder is cleared up and the perpetrators brought to justice.” Barack Obama echoed Merkel in “calling upon the Russian government to conduct a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his murder and ensure that those responsible for this vicious killing are brought to justice.” Do Merkel and Obama not realize they are conceding Putin’s defense? By declaring Putin’s Kremlin responsible for finding the murderers, they are ruling out the possibility that the Kremlin itself ordered the hit.

Western leaders are reluctant to recognize what Putin and his regime are capable of. Scholars John Dunlop and Karen Dawisha have chronicled the strong evidence that Putin was behind the 1999 apartment bombings that killed almost 400 Russians and brought him to power. Ordering the killing of one irritating opposition figure pales in comparison to this and other acts of violence.

In my own view, there are two possible explanations of Nemtsov’s murder: One is that the murder was ordered by the Kremlin itself to signal a new phase of clamp down on opposition figures. To date, figures like Nemtsov, Gary Kasparov, and Mikhail Kasyanov have been roughed up and jailed, but none have been murdered.

My second explanation would be a rogue element within the Kremlin — perhaps an overzealous oligarch — but an act of violence of this import would be an unlikely move for subordinates operating within Putin’s fabled vertical of power. I do not know how such things are arranged, but they are most likely done through a wink and a nod with no paper trail.

Note that a murder — especially one that basically happened on Kremlin grounds, on a street traveled by Putin’s motorcade, rigged with security cameras and security police — requires some degree of official cooperation, or at least looking the other way. The professional murderers chose the Bolshoi Moskvrechky Bridge leading from the Kremlin, a landmark that allows better escape from the crime scene. The assassins in the white car, however, would have had to risk getting caught in Moscow’s notorious 24-hour traffic jams in their escape attempt. Without such safeguards, Russia’s notorious contract killers would not have done the deed. In any other metropolis, the murderers would have been apprehended within minutes or would have been identified through leaks, eye witnesses, and security cameras within a short period of time.

There will be no justice for Nemtsov. An expert on Russian contract killings explains that they are rarely solved “because of the interwoven nature of criminality and Russian officialdom.” In the best case, some lower-level gangsters will confess and will quickly disappear within the Russian penal system. They and their families will likely be well-paid.

If my suspicions are correct (and we will likely never know the truth), the murder of a major opposition figure on the eve of a major rally shows the supreme level of confidence Vladimir Putin has in his hold on power. He has annexed Crimea, has de facto taken much of eastern Ukraine, and has stared down the intimidated West. What’s one murdered opposition figure?

We will see how the people of Moscow react to this vicious murder. Will they conclude that Putin is behind it? After all, his message to the Russian people is that he is responsible for all that is good. If so, would he also not answer for this cowardly act of murder by contract?

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  1. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Was it wise to be an opponent of Putin, in Moscow, and with a 23 year old Ukrainian girlfriend? Two or three of these things may have been safe. But all four together was foolish.

    • #1
  2. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Paul Gregory:The Kremlin’s obvious strategy: Kick up the dust of confusion.

    Is there any actual confusion, though? Every Russian knows how their system works, and anyone looking in from the outside with at least half an eye open all recognizes that this must have been an inside job.

    Putin’s accusation is not so much meant to confuse as to put up a procedural roadblock: even if leaders like Merkel know full well that he (or his allies) were behind the murder, tradition prevents one world leader from calling out another without hard evidence.

    • #2
  3. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    I suspect, like I suspect is true of our own president with the IRS, Putin never actually ordered the hit in an explicit manner. But everybody knew that’s what he wanted.

    • #3
  4. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Given the opacity of Russian politics, who knows?

    It does remind me the old National Lampoon. Describing the 1973 death of the Marxist* President of Chile, Salvador Allende.

    Committed suicide by shooting himself in the back, pausing only twice to reload.

    *Wikipedia lists him as a Socialist, I disagree.

    • #4
  5. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I think those of us looking at this from the outside can see Putin’s convenient lies for what they are. I think from within Russia for the many people who do not frequent external news agencies and simply get all their information from state sponsored sources the obfuscation is very effective and convincing. People can and do talk themselves into believing many things given enough propaganda.

    It is incredibly disappointing to me that western leaders give Putin any kind of formal benefit of the doubt on such matters. One murder of an opposition leader maybe a coincidence, but I think by this point it is a pattern.

    • #5
  6. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Paul,

    Well of course it was a contract killing. Putin wrote the contract.

    This gives us all a taste of what it was like to live under Stalin. There is one difference and one hope. The Net. This is why Rand Paul isn’t just being a libertarian pain in the *** when he is concerned about privacy. This is why Obamanet, aside from raising prices & killing service, is such a threat.

    The Net is Freedom. Wake up. The Russian people have no defense against tyranny because they have no access to the net without Putin control. Get them access and Putin can’t keep the lid on it.

    Claire wants answers. OK the first thing I want to know is how much information can flow into and out of Russia without Putin stopping it.? What do the Ricochet pros have to say about it?

    Regards,

    Jim

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #6
  7. big spaniel Member
    big spaniel
    @bigspaniel

    Putin is actually a pretty poor lier, which is a disappointment for a KGB man.  When he was answering questions about the “cease-fire” a couple of weeks ago, he was really straining to sell his story.

    It will be interesting to see how the oligarchs will see Nemtsov’s murder — will they take it personally?  Will they feel threatened?  Putin is certainly no friend of the oligarchs: he made it clear early on that he has exchanged power for the privilege of their being able to keep their wealth.  Putin realizes that the oligarchs are the only competing source of power and are a threat to him.   If this assassination is a reflection of tension between the two sides, it could be extremely significant.

    Remember that Putin’s problem is as much with the West as it is with Ukraine.  The West should be more outraged with Russia’s war in Ukraine than anybody.  Russia is violating two separate agreements, the Helsinki Final Act, and the Budapest Memorandum, by invading Ukraine.  There’s an argument that Ukraine would be better off without Crimea, a nest of retired Soviet Russian military retirees, and the money-losing, rusting Donbass.  But that doesn’t mean that Russia should be allowed to help themselves to either.

    As for our response, it’s time to shut down our relationship with Russia completely.  Russia is contesting the way the world works, so we should give them the opportunity to get along in it on our own.  Cut off trade, transportation, communications, close the Embassies, close their bank accounts, confiscate their assets and properties, kick their children out of fancy private school.  If they want to transgress the accepted order, if they want to break treaties and laws, if they want to live and act as the criminal state that they are, if they want to revert to traditional Russian despotism, let them.  We should cut them off completely (spring is coming soon, anyway……).

    And finally arm Ukraine.  Help the Ukrainians defend themselves.  I am completely in agreement with Senator McCain on this — I am ashamed with my country for failing to come to the aid of people who want to be free, especially since it aligns with our own interests.

    • #7
  8. user_83937 Inactive
    user_83937
    @user_83937

    “The unfortunately predictable reactions of Western leaders only contribute to the Putin narrative … Do Merkel and Obama not realize they are conceding Putin’s defense?….”

    A contradiction, there, within that paragraph.  If predictable, then it should follow that both Merkel and Obama knew exactly what they were doing.

    • #8
  9. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @CalvinCoolidg

    I bet the Republicans had something to do with it.

    • #9
  10. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Calvin Coolidg:I bet the Republicans had something to do with it.

    Come on! Everyone knows this was Obama’s fault.

    Now, as far as the story itself, Nemtsov wasn’t a “leading opposition figure” etc etc. He was a nobody in Russia. He wasn’t such a swell guy. He was just as corrupt and dirty as all other politicians in Russia.

    No need to make a martyr out of this guy. You don’t get 23 year old Ukrainian models for girlfriends, if you’re not involved in some dirty business.

    So be careful…when both sides…are just as bad.

    We have a tendency to pick some real bad loosers, when we pick sides in Russia. Whether it was in the time of the Soviet Union, or now. Solzhenitsyn was a rather…distasteful figure. Navalny, Kasparov etc. are not exactly “clean” figures either (and some of their policies are just as distasteful as Putin’s).

    Just because someone is an enemy of your enemy, doesn’t mean they should be your friend. If we didn’t learn that lesson in Iraq.

    • #10
  11. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Calvin Coolidg:I bet the Republicans had something to do with it.

    Calvin,

    It always depends on just how much you want to know the truth and what you are willing to do once you find out.

    To quote Sam Spade, “When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him he was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it..”

    By the same token some people will do almost anything to avoid the truth. The stock answer is that it doesn’t really matter to us and we don’t really know what’s going on anyway so why even comment much less get involved. If they are pressed they manufacture elaborate false causal sequences all for the express purpose of being responsible for doing nothing.

    Just another day in the neighborhood.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #11
  12. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @CalvinCoolidg

    AIG:

    Calvin Coolidg:I bet the Republicans had something to do with it.

    Come on! Everyone knows this was Obama’s fault.

    Now, as far as the story itself, Nemtsov wasn’t a “leading opposition figure” etc etc. He was a nobody in Russia. He wasn’t such a swell guy. He was just as corrupt and dirty as all other politicians in Russia.

    He was the governor of one of the largest cities in Russia. If Putin had him killed, he was somebody.
    Hey AIG, it’s Russia. They’re all bad guys. Should we applaud Putin for assassinating journalists too?

    • #12
  13. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @CalvinCoolidg

    James Gawron:

    Calvin Coolidg:I bet the Republicans had something to do with it.

    Calvin,

    It always depends on just how much you want to know the truth and what you are willing to do once you find out.

    To quote Sam Spade, “When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him he was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it..”

    By the same token some people will do almost anything to avoid the truth. The stock answer is that it doesn’t really matter to us and we don’t really know what’s going on anyway so why even comment much less get involved. If they are pressed they manufacture elaborate false causal sequences all for the express purpose of being responsible for doing nothing.

    Just another day in the neighborhood.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Good reply Jim. (My comment was a joke though)

    • #13
  14. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Calvin Coolidg:

    He was the governor of one of the largest cities in Russia. If Putin had him killed, he was somebody.

    Hmm…can you name me another governor of Nizhny Novogorad Oblast? :)

    Can you point out Nizhny Novograd on the map?

    Is Jesse Ventura a “leading opposition figure” in the US?

    Hey AIG, it’s Russia. They’re all bad guys. Should we applaud Putin for assassinating journalists too?

    Saying don’t make martyrs of people you don’t know anything about, isn’t the same thing as applauding their deaths.

    • #14
  15. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    AIG:

    Calvin Coolidg:

    He was the governor of one of the largest cities in Russia. If Putin had him killed, he was somebody.

    Hmm…can you name me another governor of Nizhny Novogorad Oblast? :)

    Can you point out Nizhny Novograd on the map?

    Is Jesse Ventura a “leading opposition figure” in the US?

    Saying don’t make martyrs of people you don’t know anything about, isn’t the same thing as applauding their deaths.

    AIG,

    Old buddy. Why I thought Nemtzov was Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin. Silly me. I guess I was mistaken. I should have consulted either my Rabbi for a halachic ruling or my local CIA analyst for all the background goodies before venturing a comment. I’m such a loose canon.

    Can you point out Nizhny Novograd on the map?

    Is Jesse Ventura a “leading opposition figure” in the US?

    Oh and by the way could you try to be a little more condescending with your straw man tactic. There wasn’t enough acid in this one.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #15
  16. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    James Gawron:

    AIG,

    Old buddy. Why I thought Nemtzov was Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin.

    Which is all the more argument for why this guy probably wasn’t such a “good guy” after all.

    • #16
  17. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    AIG:

    James Gawron:

    AIG,

    Old buddy. Why I thought Nemtzov was Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin.

    Which is all the more argument for why this guy probably wasn’t such a “good guy” after all.

    AIG,

    I nor anyone else ever claimed any “Good Guy” status for Nemtzov though I suspect by Russian standards he was. The point is that a potential political rival who was on the verge of embarrassing Putin with a truth that the entire world, except for John Kerry, already new, was assassinated in cold blood.

    I should think that would have been enough to get your attention. Why in the world reflexively argue about whether Nemtzov is the perfect man. I don’t think he deserved assassination and your commentary appears to be no more than false justification for accepting Putin’s behavior no matter how insane.

    Instead of going back to Bush 6, 8, or 10 years ago, wouldn’t it be just a little more relevant to mention that if we had simply interposed some visible force in front of Putin in say June of 2014 and then concentrated on exposing his activities in Eastern Ukraine it would have shut him down for sure. Instead we left the Ukrainians to hang in the breeze and Nemtzov took a gamble that he shouldn’t have but wouldn’t have needed to if we had acted properly.

    Now we have a successful aggressor nation to the east of Europe. He is cementing raw control of his own people by assassination. I don’t think Mr. Putin will stop as long as his military aggressions are appeased by our non-military posture and his lies are appeased by our ludicrously credulous diplomacy. Putin lied to Kerry. Wow!!!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
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