Death of Boris NemtsovMarch 27, 2015 in Russia
Boris Nemtsov was a charismatic Russian opposition leader and sharp critic of Russian President, Vladimir Putin. He was deputy Prime Minister in the 1990s in the government of Boris Yeltsin where he gained a reputation as a leading liberal economic reformer, but at the same time that made him a tainted figure in the eyes of some Russians. He was one of the leaders of the rallies in the winter of 2011-2012 that became the biggest protests against Putin since he first rose into power. In the past, he had written multiple reports accusing Putin and his inner circle of alleged corruption, a move that made him one of the most high-profile enemies of Putin’s regime. His murder, on February 27, caused massive waves of internal and international criticism against the government and its alleged role in his death. Putin has been accused by the opposition of authoritarian methods that create an atmosphere of intolerance against any dissent, criticism or indication of free speech. There had been many instances where Nemtsov had criticized the Russian government’s inefficiency, rampant corruption and the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy, which has strained and complicated the relationship between Russia and the West in one of the most serious crises since the Cold War. Speaking on radio just a few hours before his death, he severely criticized Putin’s decisions regarding Ukraine and the subsequent crisis for Russia calling his actions in eastern Ukraine as ‘’mad, aggressive and deadly policy of war against Ukraine’’. At the same time, his killing came two days before he was due to lead an opposition rally in Moscow, a rally which was made clear by governmental sources that it was not welcome. Many sources, the Ukrainian President being among them, claim that Nemtsov was working on a report that would present evidence that he believed proved Russia’s direct involvement in the separatist rebellion that took place in eastern Ukraine and which has since created the conflict that has claimed more than 6,000 human lives. The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia in multiple instances of supporting the pro-Russian militants and providing them with troops and sophisticated weapons. Moscow has consistently denied these allegations.
After Nemtsov’s killing and the waves created in the political scene about a possible involvement of the current government, Putin addressed the people and stated that he will personally oversee the search for the perpetrators. On March 7, the Russian investigators in charge of the murder announced that, after arresting five suspects, they formally charged two men. They were identified as Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev, both from the North Caucasus. The authorities stated that one of them had ties to the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial and authoritarian head of Chechnya, defended one of the Chechens charged for the shooting. A day after he defended the alleged suspect, he was given the Order of Honour award for ‘’work achievements, strenuous social activities and long conscientious service’’ by Vladimir Putin, the same man that promised that he will see Nemtsov’s killers punished. Mr Kadyrov has also openly sided with the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He is known to have a powerful private militia under his payroll, called ‘’Kadyrovtsy’’. His army has been previously accused of torture, kidnappings and assassinations in Chechnya. Kadyrov gradually became a trusted ally of Putin, mainly due to the ruthless methods that he employed against armed Islamists in his region that helped the Russian government in its effort to stabilise the North Caucasus region in a period where Putin was trying to consolidate his presidency in Moscow. Kadyrov’s Sufi Muslim brotherhood, the Qadiriya, has been a traditional enemy of Russia, so it has raised suspicion that all of the sudden it has been turned into an ally for Putin against Islamists in the region. It is not the first time that Mr Kadyrov’s name has been linked with an assassination. His name started appearing on links with the Russian Federal Security Service in 2000, when Vladimir Putin became President. Since then, he has been accused by his critics for several assassinations, but his involvement has never been proved. Journalists and human rights campaigners, such as Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, after they went public with their accusations against Mr Kadyrov they were murdered and it has yet to be determined who ordered their assassination.
If one takes into account the multiple similar incidents that took place in Russia in the past then a pattern starts to arise. It creates a bad precedent, highlighting that political terror in Russia, in multiple instances it does not even require direction from the top. There is an evolving culture that commands that whoever does not conform with the existing ideas enforced by the government, needs to be silenced. Boris Nemtsov’s murder is another incident that if left unsolved it is going to be translated into a strong signal that terror is something to abide to, especially when it is so brazenly promoted by targeting a prominent opposition activist a block from the Kremlin. It is possible that Nemtsov’s murder points to three vulnerabilities of the Russian regime that Putin tries to obscure from becoming apparent. Firstly, the threat of popular protests against his leadership. Secondly, the civic opposition to military engagement of the conscription-based Russian army. Lastly, the failure of mass propaganda employed internally in Russia, aimed at convincing Russians there is no alternative to Putin’s regime. Being aware of these vulnerabilities, the question now is to what extent the Kremlin will employ political violence as a major tool of its dominance inside Russia.