Despite news reports, this is not a new development.
Boris Y. Nemtsov was slain on Friday by an unknown gunman. He was a prominent opposition leader and he had been at the forefront of fighting for democratic reforms for over two decades. Russian President Vladimir Putin did was expected of him and offered his sincerest condolences and vowed to find the killer, in much the same way as many vows are made by politicians when public anger and shock are at their most acute. The other constant, in Russian political life at least, is that such high-profile murders are a regular occurrence. Another view of Putin’s official grief is that he is developing a siege mentality in a country already beset by enemies, if the official narrative is to be believed.
To some degree, it is not shocking. The intimated reason for the murder was that Nemtsov had access to explosive information about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. While it remains unclear whether the Russian President ordered a hit, it should be obvious what designs Putin has over the place and also it should be clear that a mixture of short-term opportunism, historical rifts and Putin’s general strategy of transfiguring the Russian bear into a war hawk are forces that drive a belief that he was somehow involved. The ins-and-outs of another Russian whodunnit may stay unsolved, like the case of Dr. David Kelly, the British doctor found dead at his home. He was another prominent figure linked to the government who had potentially embarrassing information for those in power. The official coroner’s verdict was suicide but others believe it was murder.
The general consensus around the murder of Nemstov is that it sets a new kind of precedent. This journalist disagrees. While it is true that political killings have decreased under Putin, the fact remains that significant murders have occurred while he has been in power. The most high profile – until now – was of the courageous journalist Anna Politkovskay who, in turn, wrote about the murder of human rights advocates and other agitators for democratic change.
Today, supporters of Nemstov will march in mourning but also as an act of defiance that states opposition figures will be not be cowed by the State. It may never emerge that Putin sanctioned the killing of one of modern Russia’s most honest politicians but he has directly contributed to a climate of fear and persecution where the strong-arm tactics of a mafia state terrorize and, sometimes, murder its citizens.
Analysis by Enda Kenneally