Putin’ your rubles where your mouth is: justice unlikely to come in Nemtsov murder investigation


Over a month has passed since the death of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian politician and noted critic of Russian President Vladmir Putin. Despite the passing of time, a just resolution to his murder’s case is doubtful. Details surrounding his murder and expert commentary indicate a similarity to past political murders that have gone by without resolution.

The mystery as to who exactly killed him is unlikely to be solved for a few reasons. First and perhaps foremost, a government led investigation will not name the government responsible.

But the reasons go deeper. “If a regime controls the media, and intimidates the judges and the investigators, then that regime could very successfully suppress the truth,” says Dr. Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Aron also points to the past murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Sergei Yushenkov as reasons why those responsible for Nemtsov’s death will not be brought to justice. In Politovskaya’s case, for example, the “mastermind…remains unknown,” as The New York Times reported in June of last year.

Human Rights Watch additionally cited her murder as evidence that the Nemtsov murder will go unsolved, writing “Russian law enforcement authorities don’t have a good track record investigating killings of Kremlin’s critics, such as Anna Politkovskaya…” shortly after his death. Given that these two were significant critics of Putin like Nemtsov, precedent indicates that those behind Nemtsov’s death will too escape unscathed.

Furthermore, Dr. Aron points to the emergence of suspects from Chechnya as evidence that this latest political assassination is business as usual. “When you need to serve up scapegoats, you go to Kadyrov and he provides you with Chechens. This is how it was with the Politkovskaya murder. Incidentally, they were later released by court.” Head of the Chechen Republic and Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov is widely considered an authoritarian, furthering damaging the prospects of finding the real culprit.

On a related note, many familiar with the situation believe that the government’s claims thus far are bogus. The government has put forward the idea that the opposition killed him to weaken the Kremlin. But few believe this. “The opposition kills it leader in order to embarrass Putin. I think that’s far-fetched,” says Aron.

Kadyrov has also suggested that the Chechen suspects currently held by authorities may have been motivated by Nemtsov’s remarks about the Charlie Hebdo cartoon controversy. But Nemtsov’s fellow opposition members aren’t buying it. Vladmir Milov told PRI that “you could never find anything he said or wrote which insults (the) Muslim faith,” for example. Dr. Aron agrees, pointing out that “Nemtsov was not more in support of Charlie Hebdo than other liberals.” He further notes Nemtsov’s opposition to the First Chechen War in the mid-90s as evidence that religious motivations likely did not play a role in his murder.

Nemtsov’s death is undoubtedly damaging for the Russian opposition. According to Dr. Aron, “within the opposition he clearly was the most respected leader.” Aron, like many others, points his upcoming investigation into Russia’s involvement in the War in Donbass. Moreover, he previously authored a report on corruption at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

From a far, it may seem that Russia is slowly heading towards chaos. Political assassinations are hardly a sign of stability. And with a financial crisis, a war in next door Ukraine and rumors (now found to be false) of Putin’s disappearance, it would be easy to say Putin’s regime is weakening. However, as previously mentioned, his rule has withstood backlash from political killings before. How the financial crisis and war in Ukraine play out remains to be seen, but there is not cause for major concern yet.