Russia Update: Funeral Line for Slain Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov Stretches a Kilometer

March 3, 2015
Line for the wake of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, to the Sakharov Center. March 3, 2015. Photo by Reuters

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Special features:

Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: ‘It is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russia’
Former Russian Intelligence Officers Behind Boisto “Track II” Talks – and Now the Flawed Minsk Agreement.

See also our Russia This Week stories:

Ultranationalists Angry over ‘Capitulation’ of Minsk Agreement,
‘Anti-Maidan’ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers

The Guild War – How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists?

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Team of US, German Lawyers Working on Snowden’s Return: Russian Lawyer

‘Another Dead Democrat’ – Amy Knight on the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Amy Knight has published an article titled, “Russia: Another Dead Democrat” at the New York Review of Books. Knight is a specialist on Soviet and Russian intelligence services and is the author of Who Killed Kirov: The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery, Spies Without Cloaks: The KGB’s Successors, and How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies.

She points out the following about the spot where Nemtsov was murdered:

 Not only was he very close to the Kremlin when he was shot dead on Bol’shoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. He was also in an area that was under the intense surveillance—both with cameras and physical patrols—of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), a security agency that since 1996 has been under the direct control of the Russian president. When Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, he made Evgenii Murov, a trusted ally from the St. Petersburg security services, the director of the FSO. It is very powerful, with 20,000 troops and the authority to conduct searches and surveillance without warrants; among other things it operates a secure communications system for senior Kremlin officials.

As we reported, Russian authorities have made contradictory statements that the area was not in the FSO district, or that the cameras weren’t working, or that they did work, but they belong to the city of Moscow. No more footage except some brief videos of cars supposedly related to the murder have been shown by Russian state or pro-government media.

But precisely because the area governed concerns the president and the Kremlin, the Russian authorities are not going to reveal exactly where its boundaries lie. It stands to reason that an area so close to Red Square and the Kremlin walls would fall into this area. Even if for some technical reason it does not, Moscow police would of course regard this area as one for heightened security — where most of their attention has been focused on preventing demonstrations on Red Square, which are never permitted unless orchestrated by the state.

Knight also lists some of the main people assassinated in recent years in Russia, during the Yeltsin Administration, and then in the Putin era. We would actually start the list with Vladislav Listyev, the head of ORT [which later became TV1].

This murder was partly about media and partly about business; one theory advanced by Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky was that top KGB officers at the time who opposed Yeltsin, Alexander Korzhakov and Alexander Komelkov together with the Russian mafia in Solntsevo killed Listyev to gain TV advertising revenue — a new phenomenon in Russia at the time — and to sponsor hardliner Oleg Soskovets for president; they also wanted to blame Boris Berezovsky for the murder and prepare his arrest.

Listyev’s murder has some of the same elements of theories about Nemtsov’s
murder — that hardliners in the secret police possibly helped by mafia
or Donbass fighters kill a liberal they see as their enemy, then blame it
on his own fellow opposition leaders. Even at Nemtsov’s funeral, one of
his associates, Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Rosatom, the nuclear agency,
that if Berezovsky were alive, Nemtsov’s murder could be blamed on
him as it was “in his style.”

As Knight noted, longer lists of both assassinations and attacks could be prepared. These would include figures like Nikolai Girenko, a St. Petersburg scholar who opposed hate crimes and racism and had testified against neo-Nazi group in court and was gunned down in his home in 2004, and Ivan Rybkin, former chairman of the State Duma in 1994-1996 and the Security Council in 1996-1998, who was kidnapped after accusing the Putin administration of complicity in the 1999 apartment bombings, held for four days and given a “truth drug” and forced to compromise himself. He was then intimidated from withdrawing from the presidential race.

As Knight points out, the murder comes just as another high-profile case is being tried in London:

It is ironic that at this very moment the British government is conducting an exhaustive and expensive inquiry into the involvement of the Russian government in Litvinenko’s murder, despite the possible repercussions for Britain’s relationship with the Kremlin. The verdict seems likely to be that, yes, the Kremlin ordered his murder. It will be the only honest and thorough examination of any of the brutal crimes committed against political adversaries of the Kremlin. A central purpose of the British inquiry is to send a message to the Kremlin that the Litvinenko killing was not just a murder, but an act of terrorism on British soil that cannot happen again.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Slain Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov Buried at Troyekurovsky Cemetery

Translation: the burial of Boris Nemtsov has begun at Troyekursky Cemetery.

Earlier, the line to bid him farewell at the Sakharov Center had stretched a kilometer, and OMON riot police intervened to disperse the last mourners when the service was cut short as Nemtsov’s family were exhausted.

Translation: Line for Nemtsov.

Translation: the commanding regiment of the police, who detain people at rallies, were at the hearse with the body of Boris Nemtsov.

Even as Nemtsov’s family, friends and admirers were paying their last respects to him, Kremlin propagandists bombarded Twitter, Facebook, VKontakte and other social media with disinformation and hate comments about him.


The meme is titled “Union of Right Forces: Collective Face of Russophobia.” The picture shows Nemtsov, Anatoly Chubais, Lev Gozman and others who were in a pro-business party for a time.

Translation: Nemtsov is seen off from the Sakharov Center, to applause.

Amb. Tefft gave a speech in Russian.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Funeral Line for Slain Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov Stretches a Kilometer

The line of those wishing to pay their respects to the late opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has stretched about a kilometer from the Chkalovskaya metro stop along the Sadovaya Ring Road to the Sakharov Center, where the service is being held, RBC reported.

A number of former and even current government officials came to the wake including Vice Premier Arkady Dvorkovich; Sergei Prikhodko, chief of staff; Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister; who was to have led the protest march originally planned for March 1, together with Nemtsov; Ilya Yashin, his colleague in the RPR Parnas party; Natalya Timakov, press secretary for Dmitry Medvedev; Nikolai Fyodorov, minister of agriculture; Mikhail Abyzov, minister of communications for the Open Government program; Anatoly Chubais, head of Rosnano; Sergei Kirienko, head of Rosatom; oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov; German Gref, head of Sberbank; Naina Yeltsin, widow of the first president of Russia; Boris Yeltsin; oligarch Mikhail Fridman, co-owner of Alfa- Group; and Aleksei Kudrin, former minister of finance.

Yesterday the offices of President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said they would not attend the service.

Among the foreign diplomats are EU representative Vygaudas Usackas and US Amb. John Tefft.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko awarded Nemtsov the Ukrainian Order of Freedom, the highest award Ukraine can give to foreigners.

Sergei Kirienko, head of Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, said Nemtsov’s murder was politically-motivated.

“I have no doubts that this was a contract murder. If Berezovsky were alive, I would consider that this was in his style,” he said, espousing a commonly-held conspiracy theory in Russia that exiled oligarch Berezovsky, who committed suicide in 2013, was responsible for deaths in the opposition which he supported. President Vladimir Putin and other top officials have reiterated this formulation for Nemtsov, claiming that some forces interested in “destabilizing Russia” could have made Nemtsov a martyr.

Yesterday the pro-government Izvestiya ran three articles variously speculating that Nemtsov’s killers were Ukrainians, Chechens or other opposition leaders. They refrained from a common theory about contract killings, that they involve business disputes.

“Commercial interests — that’s not about him. He was a romantic about politics, perhaps the last romantic about politics,” Kirienko added about Nemtsov.

It is the custom in Russia, where funeral parlors are a rarity, to hold funerals in the buildings associated with the deceased’s profession, i.e. a government or trade union building. In this case, the funeral is being held at the Sakharov Center, the organization associated with the reforms begun in the 1980s by physicist Dr. Andrei Sakharov, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and his colleagues. Nemtsov, a physicist himself who lived in Nizhny Novgorod (formerly called Gorky) met Sakharov while he was exiled there from 1980-1986, and later helped to establish a Sakharov museum in the apartment where he lived.

Translation: relatives have asked to interrupt the ceremony, they are tired, and thousands of people are in line.

A Twitter account has been started, “Memory of Nemtsov,” which has more than 3,000 followers already.

Translation: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr.: Nemtsov “gave his life so that our country could be normal, free, and prosperous.”
Translation: In Voronezh, 170 kiosks have already hung up the portrait of Nemtsov.


— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick