How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Novaya Gazeta’s Investigation

February 27, 2016
Still from the tape of a video surveillance camera at GUM on the night of February 27, 2015, showing Boris Nemtsov's tail. Photo by Novaya Gazeta

A number of different scenarios for how opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated on February 27, 2015 have been published in both the independent and pro-Kremlin Russian media this past year, notably by RosBalt, Novaya Gazeta, Moskovsky Komsomolets and REN-TV. The heads of the Investigative Committee, Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry were tasked by President Vladimir Putin to take personal control over the investigation, yet they had almost nothing to say in the last year; all the developments in the investigation were leaked to the press.

The following article prepared by investigative journalists at Novaya Gazeta represents not only a compilation of some of the most plausible version of the events surrounding the murder of Nemtsov, but new material which the journalists have gathered from the investigators, surveillance tapes, and their own research in Chechnya. They point to the strong possibility that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechen law-enforcers colluded with Russia’s Investigative Committee and Federal Protection Service to “manage” the investigation so that some key suspects would be able to escape and others lesser involved would take the rap. The question remains as it often does with high-profile political murders in Russia as to who commissioned the assassins and for what reason.

Translation:How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered,” by Novaya Gazeta‘s Investigation Department, published February 24, 2016. Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick.

How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered

Boris Nemtsov was murdered February 27, 2015 on the Bolshoi
Moskvoretsky Bridge, 300 steps from the Kremlin. By March 2, Vladimir Putin
already had a report of who had assassinated him.

Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the FSB made the report:
the perpetrators were a group of Chechen soldiers from the Russian Interior
Ministry’s Internal Troops, in the Sever [North] Battalion under the direction,
according to preliminary information, of Ruslan Geremeyev, the deputy

On March 5, Zaur Dadayev, the brothers Anzor and Shadid
Gubashev, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, and Khamzat Bakhayev were all arrested. Beslan
Shavanov was killed when police came to detain him. [He was either killed when
he threw a grenade at police, or committed suicide 
The Interpreter].

Three of these detainees were officers of Chechen
law-enforcement agencies. Dadayev and Shavanov were from the Sever Battalion;
Eskerkhanov was a former officer of the Shelkovsky District Police Department,
headed by Vakha Geremeyev, a relative of Ruslan Geremeyev, and Adam Delimkhanov,
who is a deputy of the State Duma. Bakhayev was not listed as working anywhere
officially, nor was Gubashev’s younger brother.

The speed with which the crime was solved was evidently
stimulated by two factors: the president’s question — “Who dared?” — and
the agent’s network that finally activated in the Chechen Republic’s
leadership, whose behavior, which often had a deadly outcome, had disastrously
annoyed Moscow’s law-enforcers. Judging from everything, Boris Nemtsov’s murder
was the last straw for them — it has never been the case that the Interior
Ministry, the FSB, the Investigative Committee, the Federal Narcotics Control
Service and the Prosecutor General — eternally warring among themselves —
would be united in a concerted surge. And it’s understandable why: repeatedly,
criminal cases that had been opened for serious offenses by Chechen
law-enforcers, had reached the stage of presenting charges but were never
prosecuted, and the suspects in them would turn up at home, with “a pledge
not to leave town,” or actually in the Donbass.

Why They Didn’t Hide
the Clues

On the whole, the perpetrators, who will soon come before a
jury, did not make much effort to hide; evidently, they believed that for
“the Motherland’s mission,” they would not be prosecuted. Nobody
picked up the bullet casings from the crime scene. No one hid from the
surveillance cameras. Even the car — a ZAZ — was washed before the murder,
but not afterward, which enabled DNA to be discovered in it, traces of
gunpowder gases and a “non-wiped” dashboard camera, and in the
apartment rented by the suspects, sim cards which nobody even intended to throw

The citizens arrested, from all indications, were so shocked
by the very fact of their detention that they immediately gave confessions
admitting to everything on videotape. In these videos, no black eyes were
visible or champagne bottles sticking out of their behinds (which the suspects,
when they thought better of it, began to tell about later). Moreover, these
initial confessions were confirmed during the course of a special investigative
measure called “on-site inspection of the testimonies”; citizens
Dadayev and Co. actively and in detail describe where they were standing,
where they were walking, how they stalked and how they killed. In sum, in the
possession of the Investigative Committee there are confessions from Zaur
Dadayev, Anzor Gubashev, and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov which, when other lawyers
appeared, the interrogated suspects began to refute. In fact, the reliability
of the initial and subsequent interrogations will be evaluated by the jury; for
us for now, it is sufficient that they exist.

What Were Officers
from Chechnya Doing at the President Hotel

The question emerges: what were officers of the Interior
Troops, who should be serving in a completely different region of Russia, doing
in Moscow? The answer has been obvious for more than ten years now. Chechnya is
the only subject of the Russian Federation whose leadership is allowed to
maintain in the capital a group of their own law-enforcers whose duties
formally include the security of high-ranking officials who come here for various
reason. Taking into account that the head of Chechnya himself, Ramzan Kadyrov, does not come to Moscow very often, there’s an additional reason for
puzzlement: why are these people here, decked out with Stechkin pistols and
supplied with service ID which among other things forbids the checking of their

After all, no one has ever heard of the spetsnaz from Yaroslavl
Region, for example, having to guard its governor during the time he is in the
capital. Yaroslavl is not mentioned randomly; within a day and a half after
Nemtsov’s murder, the governor of this region, where Nemtsov won the elections to
the regional legislature, was speedily interrogated — he came himself at the
first summons, and not to visiting Moscow investigators but to his own local ones.
Kadyrov, on the other hand, despite his knowledge about the murder and the
suspects whom he had repeatedly demonstrated on his Instagram account, has not
been questioned to this day, despite the petitioning of the plaintiffs —
Nemtsov’s family members.

Thus, these “officers of law-enforcement agencies
providing security for high-ranking officials of the Chechen Republic,”
who are based at the President Hotel across from the Interior Ministry, managed
by that time to have intimidated all the regular guests in their tight sweat
pants and Olympic t-shirts through which all types of weapons could be seen —
from daggers to machine guns.

But only privileged officials of the Chechen power
ministries stroll around the halls of this VIP hotel on the corner of Yakimanka
Street. The tactical groups of Chechen law-enforcers work in Moscow like guards
— several months and then a change of shift. As a rule, they rent apartments
on the outskirts of the city and hang out there in groups; their job consists
of handling particularly delicate assignments — kidnappings, murders, and
extortions. During their breaks from imposing constitution order in Moscow,
these highly-recognized citizens were hanging out at the Prague restaurant — now
closed — ordering hookers sent in, who then had to spend a long time in Moscow
clinics getting various types of physical injuries treated.

The delicate assignments, as a rule, are discussed in the
lobby bar at the Renaissance Slavyanskaya Hotel, at the Tatler restaurant,
which is at the Ukraina Hotel, and other dramatic places to which the majors
and captains of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops can indulge
themselves in driving to in their “Merces” [slang for “Mercedes” — The Interpreter].

It was at these hangouts in September 2014 through February
2015 that the current suspects were repeatedly seen in the company of Ruslan
Geremeyev, deputy commander of the Sever Battalion. Various people would come
to see him carrying bags, and then would leave him carrying the same bags —
only noticeably lighter.

And as far as we have learned, one of those delicate
assignments (not counting the murder of Boris Nemtsov) was performed
successfully, apparently, by fighters from Geremeyev’s tactical group: a top
manager of Gazprom who had taken something above his pay-grade was kidnapped from
a plane that was standing on the runway of the airport in the business flight
area at Vnukovo-3. He returned the money within 24 hours.

By the way, according to our sources in Chechnya, at one
time Zaur Dadayev (the alleged killer of Nemtsov) headed the personal security
of deputy Adam Delimkhanov.

Preparation for the

Two apartments were rented on Veyernaya street in Moscow in
September 2014. One was rented by Artur Geremeyev, a relative of Ruslan
Geremeyev. The other was rented by Ruslan Mukhutdinov, Geremeyev’s driver, also
an officer of the Sever Battalion (Khatayev, another Interior Ministry officer,
who does not yet figure in the case, was also seen in that apartment). Dadayev
and Co. made their base in the apartment Ruslan Mukhutdinov rented, and began
to work on the tender given them.

What was the tender in this context? When there is an
undesirable subject whose existence ruins the life of the “right
people,” the word goes out among the tactical battle groups: such-and-such
a person for such-and-such a price. Whoever is first to get to the assignment
gets the money.

In August 2014, a tender was announced for four names: Boris
Nemtsov, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alexey Venediktov and Kseniya Sobchak. The list
was surprising for Chechnya, since there were no financial or political beefs
with these people on the part of the Republic. Regardless, the price was known:
15 million rubles ($196,713).

After the mishap on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky (the killer was
arrested), the tender was withdrawn, but it’s an open question as to how long
that will be.

Boris Nemtsov was an unpleasant subject for the killers.
First, he had an irregular life style — he would go back and forth between his
office and home, and would hole up in his apartment for several days at a time,
or travel abroad or to Yaroslavl, where he worked as a deputy, and finally, he
would travel by metro. So the search for the local data of the
“subject” took time — time which was more pleasantly spent in Moscow

The people who had announced the tender began to put the
heat on — that was the news that evidently Chechen Interior Ministry officer
Shavanov brought in late February. Therefore, it was decided to
“execute” the mission in any event. One detail: four cars were used
to trail Nemtsov, including the Mercedes with the license plate A007AR, in
which apparently Ruslan Geremeyev traveled in.

The Execution of the

On February 27, at about 11:00 pm, the murders “staked
out” Malaya Ordynka, the street where Nemtsov lived, and began to wait.
Nemtsov wasn’t in sight — his car went to the supermarket but its owner didn’t
come out of the house. Then Nemtsov went to Ekho Moskvy at 20:00 where he had a
broadcast. Once again, the “subject” came out of the Ekho building at
21:45. He headed toward Red Square, and as it later became known, he and Anna
Duritskaya had dinner at the Bosco Cafe, in the GUM building, near which Anzor
Gubashev and Shavanov were lurking (this was visible from videotapes from
surveillance cameras). Then they went back on foot toward Malaya Ordynka via
Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. This is where everything happened. Dadayev climbed
the stairs to the bridge, shot Nemtsov in the back five times (not a single
bullet was wasted in vain — years of training made itself known), he didn’t
try to kill the “subject’s” companion, he got back in the ZAZ which
Anzor Gubashev was driving, and left.

There were two pistols: one was a back-up, if they were
pursued, and the other, modified from a trauma pistol, was for the execution.
The casings from the bullets were from different makers and it was
understandable why: they trained at home-made shooting ranges (which the
Investigative Committee checked in Moscow’s suburbs), and loaded the gun with
bullets from different batches.

Further, Gubashev and Shavanov left Moscow through Vnukovo Airport
on February 28 — video surveillance cameras indicate this. Dadayev and
Geremeyev, who waited at Odintsovsky District in a suburb of Moscow, would fly
out March 1. Mukhutdinov drove them to the airport. And it was he, the
investigation surmises, who took the guns to Chechnya.

In order to preempt the hysterics of the suspects’ lawyers,
Bakhayev, Eskerkhanov, and Shadid Gubashev are not charged directly with
involvement in the murder, but are only accomplices: covering up evidence,
trailing Nemtsov, moving members of the group around in their cars, and frying
potatoes for them.

Arrest and Aftermath

Furious at such impunity, the leadership of the
law-enforcement agents of Russia, which had gotten the word to make a serious
acceleration, expressed in Putin’s question, “Who?”, unleashed
special operations. A capture team made up of special sub-divisions was sent to
Chechnya and Ingushetia for the purpose of arresting the suspects.

But the suspects set themselves up by traveling to
Ingushetia in search of drugs. Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev were caught
red-handed by Federal Narcotics Control Service agents and taken to a local
police precinct then “packed up” by spetsnaz from Moscow. Parallel to
this, the other suspects were detained in Odintsovo District in the suburbs of
Moscow, where they had hidden out after the murder. Incidentally, another
feature of the case: the Gubashevs were relatives of Dadayev, which is a
characteristic sign of “Chechen murders” — to involve in the murder
your own people, so that you can keep more of the bounty (for example, in the
case of Anna Politkovskaya).

The only slip-up that occurred was with Shavanov’s arrest.
He had holed up in his Grozny apartment. One of the deputy ministers of the
Chechen Interior Ministry (the name is known to the editors of Novaya Gazeta), passed through the
police line guarded by federal troops, after which two explosions were heard,
and it was announced to everyone that Shavanov had blown himself up on a

Several days after the arrests in the Geremeyevs’ native
village of Dzhalka, there was a gathering of high-ranking persons. Besides
Ramzan Kadyrov, allegedly Adam Delimkhanov, the deputy of the State Duma,
Alaudinov, the deputy minister of the Chechen Interior Ministry, Sen. Sulim
Geremeyev, Shaa Turldayev, who is wanted for the murder of a Chechen opposition
figure in Vienna and other comrades — and of course Ruslan Geremeyev — took
part in the meeting.

Fighters from the Sever Battalion surrounded Dzhalka, and
only several law-enforcers allegedly having a relationship to the Internal
troops and the Federal Protection Service (FSO) [which guards the Kremlin
leadership and grounds —The Interpreter
were allowed to enter. Apparently it was at this meeting a framework agreement
was reached about what to do next.

Therefore, as a result, the maximum that the Moscow
law-enforcers could achieve in Chechnya was to interrogate the relatives of the
suspects and gather general information about where they were born and where
they were married.

After the Murder

Under the guise of Ramzan Kadyrov’s stableman, Ruslan
Geremeyev left for the United Arab Emirates via Kaspiysk. And although in March
2015, an order for his arrest and bringing in for interrogation had been sent
to Chechnya, the Chechen FSB agents and police officers found it hard to answer
the question where the suspect lived in Dzhalka. Mukhutdinov left for the UAE a
bit later.

Immediately after the interrogation of the alleged killer
Zaur Dadayev, a video with everything he had said was given to Kadyrov by
someone in the Investigative Committee, and after that he began to say Dadayev
was a “true patriot.” Two requests — for bringing charges in
absentia against Geremeyev and for his placement on the wanted list — were not
signed by Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee.

As a result, an indictment appeared according to which the
organizer of the murder was Geremeyev’s driver Ruslan Mukhutdinov, who had 15
million lying around, and was declared wanted on that basis. And all the
suspects changed their confessions: now Shavanov, who was dead, had done the
shooting, and he had cooked up the entire thing. He was beyond prosecution in
the next world… As Mukhutdinov was in the Emirates; it was no accident, after
all, that Kazbek Dukuzov, the alleged killer of Paul Khlebnikov, the editor of
the Russian edition of Forbes, after
serving a sentence in the UAE for theft, quietly returned to Chechnya, despite
all the ominous inquiries from the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor
General’s Office.

As for the suspects, who got the “right” sort of
lawyers, attempts to create an alibi came out awkwardly — detailed indications
of the places where they had been in Moscow only connected these persons more
and more to each other, forcing people to suppose that other, not entirely
legal matters were also in their competency.

Meanwhile, the Geremeyev Family grew significantly in
weight. Even the female line — Ruslan’s sister, Kheda, who headed the district
social welfare office, which, quite likely, led to rebellions by unhappy
citizens who claimed that supposedly 70% of their pay checks were being seized,
and Vakha Geremeyev, the head of the district office of the Interior Ministry, became the most important person in the district.

The Motives for the

What the defense attorneys of the accused are trying to
portray to the public does not withstand criticism. They say that supposedly,
the main motive is religious, since Nemtsov had made some comments that were
unacceptable about the prophet and Allah, after the Charlie Hebdo journalists
were killed. This is a lie. First, according to the suspects’ confessions, they
began to prepare the murder long before the January 2015 shooting of the French
magazine’s employees, and second, in explaining their motives, the suspects
indicated the following consistently: Nemtsov was an opposition member who was
preparing “some kind of march”; secondly, he supported Ukraine; third, he was “supported by Obama”; and fourth, he had sworn at the
leader of Russia. How, where and which way all these actions took place, the
suspects don’t explain, apparently because most likely, they were subjected to
a propagandistic workover.

However, such confused explanations provide a basis for new
questions. Who instilled such thoughts in these people? Who put out “on
order” the tender with the names which did not correspond to the Chechen
agenda? What is known to Gen. Viktor Zolotov, the former deputy head of the
FSO, and the current commander of the Interior Ministry’s troops, whose subordinates
allegedly went to the “meet-up” in Dzhalka, and who himself did not
answer the inquiry from the reply to an inquiry from the Investigative
Committee about their status?

Why did Russia’s FSO not provide the tapes from the video
cameras through which are visible Red Square and the walls of the Kremlin, and
the investigation has to rely only on one video taken by the TV Center camera
(the municipal cameras on the bridge turned out to be turned up toward the
sky)? And finally, why did the head of the Investigative Committee not allow
the question of Ruslan Geremeyev, deputy commander of the battalion of Russia’s
Interior Troops? (Who, in fact, not only returned to Chechnya, but is already
speaking out regarding the murder of Boris Nemtsov, saying that Dadayev could
not have committed it since he was with him all the time, and was carrying out
the assignments to guard the mythical high-ranking officials of the Chechen
administration.) So, let him say that officially, especially since the only
thing that Geremeyev says he doesn’t understand is the presence of Shavanov in
Moscow (according to RosBalt’s information). That is, the general version of
the suspects’ defense: the deceased Shavanov did the murder — and the person
to order it was the unreachable driver Mukhutdinov — has found its visible