Once again Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has blood on his hands, and once again he is smugly confident that he will get away with murder.
Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot to death as he was walking across the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, a mere 200 yards from the Kremlin. This is an area under constant video surveillance, and the message is chillingly clear: We can get you anytime, anywhere, and your killers will never be found.
Nemtsov was one of the most prominent political figures of the Yeltsin era, serving as the boldly reformist and immensely popular governor of Nizhni Novgorod (Russia’s third most important region). He also served as deputy prime minister. Many considered him the leading contender to succeed Yeltsin.
Instead Yeltsin pulled Vladimir Putin out of bureaucratic obscurity to become anointed President, probably in a back room deal to protect Yeltsin’s inner circle. And as Putin began his campaign to destroy Russia’s nascent democracy and transform the country into his personal fiefdom, Nemtsov went into opposition to try to save Russia from its dark descent into quasi-dictatorship.
Among his bravest activities was painstakingly documenting corruption in the Kremlin, exposing to the Russian public the true nature of Putin’s gangster regime. And most recently he was compiling evidence of Russia’s direct involvement in the civil war in Ukraine, a war which Putin has done so much to create. And this is very likely what led to his murder. If anyone had a clear motive to have Nemtsov killed, it is Vladimir Putin.
And in a morbid spectacle played out numerous times before, Putin swears that the killers of yet another of his personal enemies will be brought to justice. And the authorities have announced their all too predictable theories. Nemtsov was probably murdered “to destabilize the political situation.”
And who would benefit from destabilizing the political situation? Well, of course the opposition itself, hoping to make Nemtsov into a martyr for their traitorous cause. Or perhaps foreign security agencies, the sinister forces Putin is always telling his people are dedicated to destroying Mother Russia and stealing its natural resources.
Other equally implausible theories floated by the authorities are that Nemtsov was killed by Islamic fundamentalists, or perhaps by a disgruntled lover. All of this is cynically calculated to simultaneously smear Nemtsov’s character, portray the opposition as cravenly traitorous, instill yet more paranoia about CIA plots, and point the finger for responsibility for this brazen assassination in all directions away from Putin’s Kremlin.
In its lead story, Pravda serves its Kremlin masters by explicitly saying what Putin really wants the public to believe. “Nemtsov was just another sheep to be sacrificed to the interests of the CIA." And Putin clearly can’t be responsible, why would such a world statesman such as him order the murder of such an “insignificant person” and “notoriously unpopular representative of the fifth column?”
We will never learn who pulled the trigger, not when the police obediently serve the Kremlin and openly scorn the ideals of justice and the rule of law. And in fact, it may not be that Putin personally gave a direct order to kill his nemesis. It would have been enough, Mafia-style, for the Kremlin’s henchmen to know the Boss’s wishes.
In the dangerous environment of hysteria and hatred created by Kremlin propaganda, any opposition to the regime is seen as traitorous. And most Russians on this grim day regard this heinous act as the work of nefarious enemies of the state, and not the state itself. And many self-proclaimed “patriots” are gloating over Nemtsov’s murder, not hiding their satisfaction in his death.
One of the most ominous consequences of this political assassination is the fact that most Russians are either utterly indifferent, or worse, that they approve of the murder of their countrymen if they dare voice their dissent. Russia is becoming more and more like its Soviet and Tsarist predecessors, a society where the most honest people are “the nails that get hammered down” while the worst rise to positions of unassailable power.
Nemtsov is a martyr, and his gruesomely public murder in sight of the Kremlin will cast a long shadow of fear and intimidation over those few brave souls who want Russia to become a decent, democratic society, which was the dream that Boris Nemtsov unfailingly served. And Vladimir Putin is smugly confident that he will never face responsibility for Nemtsov’s death.
He is, however, not so confident in the future of his gangster petro-state. When the petro-dollars run out, he won’t be able to satisfy all the demands of the quasi-criminal clans who are loyal to him today. And when the federal budget can’t pay for the bread-and-circuses that are the base of his public support, his days will be numbered. In the meantime, he will continue to tighten the screws and there will be more martyrs to Russian democracy.