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The official reaction to the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was supposed to play out according to a time-tested formula. The standard script, as perfected after the murders of troublesome journalists (Anna Politkovskaya, Paul Khlebnikov and Mikhail Beketov), calls for the eventual capture, confession, and sentencing of the contract killers, but not the contractors. The killers, of course, would profess to have no idea who their contractor was. They would then disappear into the Russian prison system, knowing their families would be taken care of as long as they maintained their silence.
The news out of Russia, however, suggests that the formula is breaking down this time around:
TASS, the official Russian news service, leading newspapers, and press services reported the sensational news that surveillance cameras around the Kremlin had identified two of the killers (first reports claimed that they were turned off for maintenance), one of whom confessed to being a participant in the crime. Four other suspects were arrested in their Caucasus havens, and another killed himself with a hand grenade while resisting arrest.
Reuters reports from Moscow that the court arraignments received extensive state-controlled media coverage to underscore the thoroughness of the investigation and that it was too early for information on the contractors, the investigators said.
Of the five suggested explanations for the Nemtsov murder, Putin was left with one: the Islamic fanatic story, albeit it defies credulity.
The limited information about the suspects, at first glance, is not consistent with the “Islamist extremist, Nazi Kiev fascist, CIA” script. While the confessed killer has declared that Nemtsov was murdered because of his “negative comments about Islam and the Muslim religion,” this information came as a surprise to his mother. She said that her son “is not a strong believer. He worked a lot, he has earned medals, he fought against the Islamic (vakhabity) enemy. This is a mistake.” The mother could think of no instance when her son mentioned Nemtsov or the Paris caricatures. (Nemtsov’s only “negative comment about Islam,” by the way, was a routine condemnation of the violence in Paris.) The sudden conversion of a Chechen killer is no problem in Putin’s Russia. If the fact don’t confirm the theory, just change the facts.
Another blow to Kremlin propaganda: The conspirator served for a decade in the Sever Battalion of Putin’s puppet ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who opined that the violent murderer killed Nemtsov out of a sense of Islamic piety, characterizing the confessed assassin “as a profoundly religious man…shocked by what Charlie did and by comments in support of the cartoons.” It is interesting that a soldier in Kadyrov’s secular army has suddenly turned into a fanatical defender of the prophet, especially considering that the Kadyrov government positions itself as a bulwark against radical Islam.
Kadyrov is also a vocal enemy of the Kiev government and reputed to be one of the main suppliers of foreign troops for the Russian-backed separatists. He and his thugs, therefore, seem unlikely to commit a political murder on behalf of their Ukrainian enemies.
For a full breakdown of what’s going on see my newest piece at Forbes.Published in