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A Very Russian Murder

The PDU takes a look back at Boris Nemcow’s life, his horrible death and what it all says about Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin and Russia at large. 

By Olena Lobunets

A late Moscow evening. Moskvorecky bridge is still busy. A handsome couple is walking towards the square, just a stone away from Kremlin. Note: both the bridge and the square are under constant surveillance by the Russian intelligence services. A large snow-cleaning vehicle slowly follows the couple. Note: there is no snow on the streets of Moscow. At some point the snow-cleaner shields the couple from the cameras, only to show a man jumping into a quickly disappearing car, and then – a lonely figure of a woman. Her companion is lying on the ground. He is killed with four skillful shots in the back. The shots were fired from a Makarov gun. The bullets were twenty years old, all from different manufacturers. The officials announced their strong intention to find the killer of Boris Nemcov, a prominent opposition leader. The “guilty” from Caucasus were soon captured and, after a bit of torture, rushed to admit their involvement.

Who was Boris Nemcov and why did somebody kill him in one of the most heavily watched spots of Moscow? Why did the surveillance cameras fail to provide the vital evidence? Was it really the fault of misty weather and well fed Moscow pigeons?

Arguably hardly a threat to seriously popular Papa Putin, Nemcov appeared on the political scene in the rocky nineties. First as governor of Novgorod, then as Deputy Prime Minister, Nemcov had vast political experience and an unusually spotless reputation. His popularity, however, was seen negative by some who blamed liberals like Nemcov for the Soviet Union’s collapse.

At the same time, Nemcov’s recent victory in Yaroslavl provided a different perspective. In two years time charismatic and knowledgeable Nemcov had every chance to become a member of the Russian Duma and a potential candidate in the next Presidential elections. After all, Russia is a big country, and concentration of intelligent and brave there is not as negligible as Putin’s propaganda machine wants the world to believe. Under the right circumstances, with somebody like Nemcov in Kremlin, Russia would obtain a real chance for a sip of fresh air.

It turned out that just before the killing Boris was working on the report uncovering the scale of Russian military involvement in Ukraine. After his death Nemcov’s appartment was thoroughly searched. Could it be that the motive behind the murder were Nemcov’s political activities and his fierce criticism towards Vladimir Putin? The Russian authorities immediately branded the murder a callous provocation. The Russian media went hysterical blaming Ukrainians, ISIS, and CIA all working together to undermine Mother Russia in some thick worldwide conspiracy. But then the events took unexpected turn.

It was officially announced that Nemcov’s murder was an act of revenge of offended Islamic extremist Dadaev, a Chechen whose accomplice had conveniently committed suicide. Straight after the announcement Dadaev denounced his admission of guilt pointing at the signs of torture on his body. Strangely enough, all that was gladly reported by the Russian media. Dadaev’s “capture” became a pure embarrassment both for Kremlin and for Kadyrov. The latter being a piece of particularly bad news for Putin. Kadyrov’s fall has only one logical continuation – the political death of Vladimir Putin, the “great victor” in the second Chechen war. The circumstances of Nemcov’s murder assume support, doesn’t matter silent or explicit, of the Kremlin. However, the four shots in the back of Nemcov ricocheted in an unexpected direction. The reputation damage to the Kremlin has been aggravated by every additional shameless lie, making it more and more difficult for Putin to keep from losing face.

 Once again Russia became a police state sending its young men to die in a bizarre and pointless war with its close neighbour.(…) Later Putin would proudly acknowledge his “ingenious” Crimean plan, effectively giving evidence against himself fit for trial before an International Court.

Only a few years ago Russia was a promising country gradually returning to normal life after its surreal communist past. The cold war was over. The western world embraced a new partner that supposedly shared its democratic values. Of course, there were two wars in Chechnya, and a war in Georgia; clear signals that something was not quite right. The world was unimpressed and forgiving. And then – the medieval-style annexation of Crimea and brutal violation of Ukrainian borders. Overnight Russia declared itself the world’s adversary, rapidly descending into political and economic isolation. The Russian economy, built on ruthless exploitation of natural resources, suddenly collapsed. The country slipped into criminal dictatorship and collective nationalistic hysteria. Once again Russia became a police state sending its young men to die in a bizarre and pointless war with its close neighbour. The supposed secrecy of direct Russian involvement in Ukraine gave the world an excuse to remain relatively calm. Suddenly military invasion became an acceptable tool for promoting one’s territorial ambitions and geopolitical interests. Later Putin would proudly acknowledge his “ingenious” Crimean plan, effectively giving evidence against himself fit for International Court. The world frowned but largely ignored Putin’s brazen admissions, reinforcing the villain’s confidence, not mentioning another spike in his popularity among a majority of excitable Russians.

The question remains: why and how did all of that happen? And the answer is depressing. All that was simply a bone thrown to Russian long-suffering, impoverished population; the old good bone called “Great and Victorious Mother Russia”. The scary thing is that the trick had worked, appealing to the ugliest sides of the Russian soul. But is it all about Mother Russia and Putin’s “geopolitical interests”?

The West once again failed to grasp the essence of mafia politics. The world was stunned when Putin suddenly disappeared and Kremlin’s criminal clans started to show the signs of internal struggle; the struggle that was less about Mother Russia and more about the ability to capture a fair amount of money without being instantly murdered or imprisoned.

Now it seems that some invisible force has been unleashed, turning Putin into a political victim instead of a controlling villain.

In the course of the last fifteen years Russian criminal power built a unique web of pocket sharing agreements between various “Papas” participating in a myriad of Russian businesses not excluding Gazprom, Rosneft and Surgutneftegaz. Such agreements were reinforced by means of word and fear. When Kadyrov and Putin showed signs of weakness, the great panic unfolded. The most informed “pockets” became a liability, and had to be removed from the picture. As a result, quite a few well informed figures, mostly from Viktor Yanukovich’s clan, accidentally and brutally killed themselves, triggering a chain reaction of mutual annihilations of oligarchical criminal groups.

Unfortunately, the Russian people remained the spectators, not the participants in this strange chain of events. It is often said that the Russians are guilty of apathy and non-resistance to their dictators; and that their muteness and obedience pose a danger to the outside world. Nowadays it seems that the collective guilt of Russians is deeper. The popularity of President Putin increased after annexation of Crimea; remarkably, it jumped even higher after Nemcov’s murder. Now it seems that some invisible force has been unleashed, turning Putin into a political victim instead of a controlling villain. Sadly, that force has nothing to do with the will of ordinary Russians. What a shameful choice to sit and watch for a dictator to stand or to fall. It doesn’t matter whether it is Putin, Stalin, Genghis or Ivan the Terrible. In that respect Russians differ greatly from their neighbours in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, on the third of March near Saharov centre thousands of Russians gathered to say goodbye to Boris Nemcov. Those were the Russians that had always valued freedom and couldn’t be fooled by extreme mass propaganda imposed on them by Putin’s media. Some were carrying slogans “Russia will be free!” and “Heroes never die!” It seemed like a large crowd. but was it large enough to bring about change?

Image: Support of prisoners of the Bolotnaya square case” by Ilya Shurov via Flickr under Creative Commons licence 2.0.

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