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Death of Putin Critic Raises Controversy

By Matthew Schaller
Staff Writer

On February 27, an unidentified attacker in a vehicle shot former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and prominent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov as he crossed a bridge, within the immediate vicinity of the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the killing and stated that he would assume “personal control” of the investigation by checking in periodically with police chiefs assigned to the case. However, despite trawling through Mr. Nemtsov’s flat for evidence and searching Moscow for the getaway vehicle, Russian police are unsuccessful in finding and prosecuting the killers, as they have been before.

For example, in 2006, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in central Moscow. The shooters were brought to trial, but the masterminds have yet to be found. Due to a flawed Russian police force and a culture of corruption, the motives for Mr. Nemtsov’s death will most likely remain a mystery shrouded by speculation.

The Russian Investigative Committee was quick to jump to conclusions about Nemstov’s death. It stated that numerous motives were being considered, including Islamic extremism and Nemtsov’s links to Ukraine. According to Vladimir Markin, head of the committee, the murder could have been a move “aimed at destabilizing the country” by “those who do not shun anything to reach their political gains.”

Numerous other theories have been given, from the Russian government to average Russian citizens. “Provocation” is Kremlin code for a destabilizing attack on the Russian state. According to BBC News, it is standard procedure for Russian state-run media to blame the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency on numerous issues ranging from the Ukrainian uprising and other anti-Russian insurrections in other countries. However, with a lack of hard evidence, few believe that the CIA are connectedto Mr. Nemtsov.

At the time of his death, Mr. Nemtsov was organizing an anti-war rally in Moscow and planning to publish damning evidence of Russian involvement in Ukraine. There are some who believe that rogue elements within the security services or ultra-nationalist groups would want to take him out due to his liberal brand of politics and his criticism of the occupation.

However, one theory with considerable popularity in opposition circles claims that this murder goes back to the President Putin. Nemtsov’s fellow Putin crtic Alexei Navalny said, “Nemtsov was murdered by members of a government or pro-government organization on the order of the country’s political leadership.” Nevertheless, the puzzling aspect of this theory is that Nemtsov’s image was considerably stronger during the Yeltsin years and it would have made sense to target younger Putin critics like Navalny.

The main question that is being asked is how this watershed event will affect the advancement of the Russian opposition. Other prominent oppositionists like former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, have been around for a while. Still, they seem to struggle in creating a trigger that would ultimately monopolize public opinion in their favor.

The reason for this is twofold: the Russian people are apprehensive of radical change, as the collapse of the Soviet Union is fresh in their memory, and the opposition is banned from major TV

networks, hence deprived of a medium to 90 percent of the Russian population, according to BBC News. However, deep economic troubles as a result of a crashing ruble and instability in Ukraine may be enough of a rallying cry for the opposition.

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