Staunton, February 28 – Almost three weeks ago, Boris Nemtsov said that he feared that Vladimir Putin would kill him for his opposition activities, and last night, the Kremlin leader did, either by direct order which some are convinced is the most likely or by creating the barbarous climate in Russia which has made such crimes more possible as others do.
On February 10, Nemtsov told Sobesednik that he had long feared that action but until that point had shared his fears only with his mother. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, the situation has deteriorated to the point, he suggested, that he “finally decided to talk about all this in public.”
His mother, Nemtsov said at the time, “is categorically against what is taking place in Ukraine and considers that this is a catastrophe and a complete nightmare. But Putin agitates her more than Ukraine. Every time when I call her, she says: ‘When are you going to stop cursing Putin? He will kill you!’”
She was at that point “really afraid,” Nemtsov said, that Putin would kill him in the near future because of his statements and actions. “And this, I repeat, was no joke: she is an intelligent person. She very much fears this.”
Nemtsov said then that he didn’t fear this possibility as much as his mother “but all the same … If I feared it very much then I would hardly be able to head an opposition party or be involved in what I am involved with.” And in response to his interviewer’s hope that “good sense will triumph and Putin will not kill you,” Nemtsov said he hoped so too.
Now, however, Nemtsov is dead, gunned down within sight of the Kremlin, and many are sure that Putin bears direct or indirect responsibility for this latest crime. Igor Eidman notes that “now many are writing that Putin didn’t give the order … but is guilty because he released the genie of hatred out of the bottle and created an atmosphere of chauvinist hysteria.”
But the Moscow commentator says that he is “certain that it was precisely Putin who in one form or another personally gave the order to kill Nemtsov.” The Kremlin leader like the bandit he is could not bear Nemtsov’s characterization of him as “the great dictator” and his constant criticism of what Putin has done at home and abroad.
From Putin’s perspective, Eidman says, Nemtsov had thereby undermined Putin’s authority, something the Kremlin leader cannot tolerate. But there is a more immediate and practical reason why Putin killed him: Nemtsov was preparing a report on “Putin and the War” about the crimes of the Kremlin in Ukraine. Putin couldn’t allow that to appear.
Few people especially inside Russia are prepared to be that blunt. After all, in the current environment, they could become the next victims. Instead, and Nemtsov’s fellow opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky is typical of this, they prefer to speak about “political responsibility” rather than accusing Putin of this crime.
Unfortunately, that reluctance, the natural response to the increasingly vicious nature of the Putin regime, plays right into the hands of how the Kremlin is dealing with this situation. On the one hand, it is putting out a variety of “versions” of the murder, confident that the media in its quest for “balance” and “responsibility,” will report them.
That will allow Putin to avoid responsibility by muddying the waters, the same thing he has done with his crimes in the past, and almost inevitably mean that Western leaders instead of viewing this political murder as yet another reason to oppose Putin’s actions will avoid doing so, possibly in the continued name of not causing the Kremlin leader to “lose face.”
And on the other hand, the Putin regime is doing what it can to prevent the murder of Nemtsov from sparking the kind of political protest Russian regimes historically have found difficult to cope with. The opposition wants to transform a protest march scheduled for tomorrow into a memorial march: Putin’s agents in the Moscow city government have already said no. [Update: The opposition was granted a permit to hold a funeral procession March 1 The Intrerpreter].
The author of these lines had the privilege of meeting Boris Nemtsov. He was a truly great man, the kind of leader Russia needs to escape its past and become a better place. Now that he has been gunned down by those committed to taking Russia back to that past, we must honor his memory in the first instance by not allowing his murderers to evade responsibility.