Sunday, March 1, 2015

Russian Political Murder

By Stephen Wilson

Murdered Russian official Boris Nemtsov

(Moscow, Russia)'The best people die in this Russian century' and 'A victim of an inspired polite killer' read some messages placed on the rain swept overcast bridge. The  prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, had been brutally and banally shot dead by a passing car on the Bolshoi Zamoskvoretsky bridge at around 11.40 p.m. last Friday evening.

The car then slowly drifted away as if it had all the time in the World.

The murder happened just a few meters from the Kremlin where practically every meter of the road is under heavy observation not to mention guards. When I arrived on the bridge I found many mourners had gathered to lay flowers, as well as observe a respectful silence.

Some were evidently in tears. The mood in Moscow is sombre, sullen and often a stony silence. Many people are stunned and quite a number of people can't believe it. 'How could it happen ?' 'Why couldn't they catch the murders when the whole scene of the crime is under camera surveillance? ' 'Did they really want to catch them?'

I heard two kiosk sellers with grim faces saying 'Have you heard the latest news? Boris Nemtsov has been murdered? 'How did it happen?

Where'?  The murder happened on the eve of an opposition rally where Nemstov was due to speak. The organisers have
already cancelled the march. Instead, many would be demonstrators found themselves on this bridge, grieving over one of their dead leaders.

Even people who disagreed with Nemtsov came to the bridge to offer him homage. One man who came stated, 'I came because I think he was a cheerful, open and honest man and very beautiful'.

The speaker was indifferent to his political views.

Boris Nemtsov leading a government protest. 

Boris Nemtsov was clearly a very brave man. Despite receiving previous death threats, he insisted in walking around the streets without a body-guard. Like many Russians, he was a fatalist. 'If they want to kill me, they
will kill me', he reasoned.

There is something banal ,hollow and spineless about this murder. It is as if the philosopher Pavel Florensky's claim that evil has no backbone and is a shallow shell is vindicated by the murder.

The reaction of the Kremlin to this murder was quite prompt. Putin's press secretary stated 'It has all the hallmarks of a contract killing and is a provocation. The murder may be connected with the victim's links and contacts in Ukraine ...'

This is a standard response of Putin. 'This is a provocation' has become a trite response. What does the Kremlin mean by provocation?

They usually come across with a crude conspiracy theory that the opposition killed one of their own organisers in order to discredit and undermine the legitimate authority of the Kremlin. The aim is to blame and thus subvert the authorities.' But this theory is so childishly absurd and silly that it is difficult to imagine reasonably intelligent people being duped by it. However, many Russians have a penchant for conspiracy theories and one of the most popular is that
America aims to completely destroy and take over Russia.


As one would have expected, many theories have mushroomed around the incident conveniently obscuring a proper investigation and arrest of the culprits. One theory is that it was due to Muslim extremists, another that it was part of a conflict over business, another that it was Russian nationalists who viewed him as 'a traitor' for opposing the war in Ukraine and working as an advisor for their government.

An opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, believes the authorities may have had a hand in it in order to 'scare the opposition'. The government wanted to 'make an example of him' and hence discourage and dampen down people going on demonstrations. The Kremlin strongly rejects and denies such allegations. Putin has stated that he intends to bring
the murderers to justice.

What is evident is that Nemtsov was an implacable opponent of Putin.

He was forever challenging him to a public debate boasting, 'I would win any debate with him'. Putin refused the offer. Nemtsov was a very controversial political figure, not intimidated by anyone. He was often arrested and detained at public meetings and rallies. He also fell out with many opposition figures. Nemtsov's  political career  soared  from
1991, when he became the governor of Nizhgorodsky and later served under Boris Yeltsin where he held a post as chairman of the state council of security. When Putin came to power, he became a prominent and leading organiser of the opposition and attended many demonstrations over the last few years. However, it was his strong connections with Ukraine that most of all incensed many hard-line nationalists.  A very possible scenario is that extremist elements may have colluded with members of the Federal security Bureau to carry out the murder of Nemtsov. Indeed, new evidence has emerged that members of the Russian security services may have financed and aided neo-fascist hit squads to assassinate unwanted opposition figures such as anti- fascist activists and outspoken journalists. Very often those agents discreetly vanish leaving the hitmen to take all
the blame. It is not an implausible theory. The murder of journalist Politkovskaya in October 2006 coincided with Putin's birthday. This murder was no accident or isolated incident but executed by agents to terrify critical journalists into toning down their reportage. It seems to have partially worked. Most journalists in Russia don't challenge the authorities for fear of losing their jobs or lives. Just as this act
was intended by the authorities as an example to journalists, so the murder of Nemtsov is meant to intimidate opposition leaders.

It may also be just a coincidence, but not long before the murder, the 33rd detention of a opposition figure was detained on charges of assaulting police officers at Bolotnoye square on May the 6th, 2012.

The unfortunate Ivan Nepomnyashchikh was only identified by a witness on February 25,2015. How come it has taken so long to bring a case against this person and where did they find this mysterious witness? Did they dig him out of a lucky bag?

This is not the best time to be an opposition figure. According to some surveys, such as the recent Levada center, 86% of Russians support Putin. This represents a huge reservoir of support which western politicians can only dream of.  Thatcher's popularity never even soared over 40% of the British population. In fact, she was more popular in Russia, and the Russian prime-minister has even written a doting book on her. How can we explain this popularity? Russians
adore a strong authoritarian leader who can keep reasonable order in the country. What actions alienate Brits, often go down well in Russia.

A further factor crippling the opposition is that Putin is not identified with the corruption and idiocy of the Duma, but is viewed as a symbol of Russia. He has become synonymous with patriotism. So to agree with Putin is now seen as an affirmation of patriotism while to disagree is 'treachery'. Since many western leaders want rid of Putin, many Russians conclude he must be a true Russian. This is because many
Russians geneuinely believe most of the world hates them and wants to hurt them. President Obama's speech where he publicly gloated as how he thought sanctions had effectively left the Russian economy in tatters incensed even moderate Russian nationalists. The impact of sanctions has strengthened Putin's hold on the country.

In this paranoia atmosphere where the government views the opposition as 'foreign agent's or 'fifth columns' or ' the enemy within', then you can see how difficult it is for the opposition. Even in less repressive times, a leader such as Grigori Yavlinki's pianist son was kidnapped and had his fingers crushed by a group of unknown thugs. The thugs insisted that his father had to give up politics altogether!

That Nemtsov refused to 'play safe' and carried on expressing highly disagreeable views in such a forbidding climate speaks volumes for his courage. We might not all agree with his views. We should nevertheless salute his courage.

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