28 Feb 2015

Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov shot dead in Moscow

US President Barack Obama condemns the “brutal murder” of Boris Nemtsov, the most prominent opposition figure of Vladimir Putin’s 15-year rule, who was found shot dead outside the Kremlin.

The US and British governments have called for an urgent and transparent investigation into the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot in the back four times in Moscow.

Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Putin wants to govern for the rest of his life Boris Nemtsov

Nemtsov, 55, was shot four times in the back by assailants in a white car as he walked across a bridge over the Moskva River in central Moscow, just before midnight on Friday, police said. He was with w Ukrainian woman who was unhurt.

The scene of the shooting, just yards away from the Kremlin, was sealed off for two hours after the gangland-style killing that carried echoes of Russia in the chaotic aftermath of the the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Nemtsov was a former deputy prime minister to Boris Yeltsin and feared he would be murdered after prominent opposition to Mr Putin’s rule for more than a decade.

He had been touted as a possible successor to Yeltsin, who even jokingly referred to him as “Boris II”.

US Senator John McCain said he was “devastated” to learn of the death of his friend.

“That Boris’s murder occurred in a secure part of the Russian capital raises legitimate questions about the circumstances of his killing and who was responsible,” he said.

If you believe that a dictatorship in Russia is OK for Europe, you’re mistaken Boris Nemtsov

“But regardless of who actually pulled the trigger, Boris is dead because of the environment of impunity that Vladimir Putin has created in Russia, where individuals are routinely persecuted and attacked for their beliefs, including by the Russian government, and no one is ever held responsible.”

Putin: Nemtsov killing a provocation

Nemtsov said in 2011 that as a member of the opposition movement against President Putin, “you have to be prepared for everything”.

“You can be killed, end up in jail or be doused with ammonium hydroxide, which happened to me last New Year’s Eve,” he told Spiegel Online.

“Putin wants to govern for the rest of his life, and that means stagnation, degeneration and marginalization for Russia.

“Optimists believe that he wants to remain in office until 2024, while pessimists say it’ll be until 2036. I’m an optimist, and I want him to leave as soon as possible.

“If you believe that a dictatorship in Russia is OK for Europe, you’re mistaken. The closer your friendship with Putin, the more problems you’re making for yourself.”

Mr Putin condemned the “brutal” killing and brought the investigation under presidential control, saying it could have been a contract killing and a “provocation” on the eve of a big opposition protest Nemtsov had been due to lead on Sunday.

Bloodshed is the prerequisite to show loyalty, that you are on the team Opposition leader Garry Kasparov

Mikhail Kasyanov, an opposition leader and a former prime minister under Putin, said at the scene: “There can be only one version: that he was shot for telling the truth.”

“That a leader of the opposition could be shot beside the walls of the Kremlin is beyond imagination,” he added.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev cautioned against jumping to conclusions on who killed Nemtsov.

“Certain forces will try to use the killing to their own advantage,” he said. “They are thinking how to get rid of Putin.”

Mr Obama said Nemtsov was “a tireless advocate for his country, seeking for his fellow Russian citizens the rights to which all people are entitled”.

‘Boris was worried’

Another opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said on Twitter: “In Putin’s atmosphere of hatred and violence, abroad and in Russia, bloodshed is the prerequisite to show loyalty, that you are on the team.”

“If Putin gave [the] order to murder Boris Nemtsov is not the point,” he added. “It is Putin’s dictatorship. His 24/7 propaganda about enemies of the state.”

Nemtsov had reportedly been out walking after a meal in a restaurant by Red Square, and had said in a recent interview he was concerned that the president might want him dead over his opposition to the conflict in Ukraine.

Opposition politician Ilya Yashin said Nemtsov “periodically received anonymous threats on social networking sites”.

“Boris was worried. He said he was under threat but never wanted additional security.”

Ksenia Sobchak, another opposition figures, said Nemtsov had been preparing a report on the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.

Exiled opponents

In previous reports, Nemtsov condemned overspending on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics by the Russian authorities and listed the many state buildings, helicopters and planes that Putin has at his disposal.

He was also one of the leaders of the rallies in the winter of 2011-12 that became the biggest protests against Putin since he first rose to power in 2000.

But opponents to Mr Putin’s rule often fear for their life, under strong pressure to stay quiet.

Opposition blogger Alexei Navalny is serving a 15-day jail term, preventing him attending Sunday’s march in Moscow.

Mr Kasparov is based in the United States and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, freed in late 2013 after a decade in jail, lives in Switzerland.