The Kremlin is cornered, defensive and increasingly aggressiveby David Patrikarakos / March 4, 2015 / Leave a comment
On a cold evening on 27 February, Russia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was walking across a bridge in central Moscow close to the Kremlin when he was gunned down and killed. The 55 year old Nemtsov, long a harsh critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was with his 23 year old Ukrainian girlfriend at the time of his death. Mysteriously, some of the surrounding CCTV cameras were later said by police to have been turned off. His body was taken away and the crime scene hosed down within minutes, though it took the police a while to arrive. The murder or, more correctly, the assassination could have come straight from the pages of a John Le Carre novel.
The media wars swiftly began. Western journalists from Europe to the U.S. have lined up to accuse the Kremlin of being behind the hit, while Russian newspapers and TV channels have blamed everyone from ultranationalists to Jihadists to, bewilderingly, Ukrainian-hired Chechens for taking out Nemtsov.
But as the journalist Ben Judah recently noted, as a leading dissident Nemtsov would likely have been under round-the-clock surveillance from Russian security service the FSB. Nothing he did or said would have escaped their notice; and certainly no one could have killed him without either the Kremlin’s blessing or its deliberate omission.
Amid the furore one thing is clear: the assassination marked what is likely to be the beginning of a dark era for Russia.
Political assassinations are nothing new. Only a few years ago Alexander Litvinenko, another critic of Putin, was poisoned in a London restaurant. The journalist Anna Politkovskaya, an outspoken critic of Putin, was murdered in 2006 as she entered the lift in her block of flats.
But the brazen nature of the act (and its occurrence just by the seat of Russian power) sends a clear message: if you are part of the opposition you can and will be killed.
Whether or not Putin ordered the assassination, he has created a toxic political climate in which anyone criticising the…