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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 11, March 7, 2015

Russia: Boris Nemtsov’s Murder and Demonisation of Putin

Monday 9 March 2015, by Arun Mohanty

Boris Nemtsov, one of Russia’s most flam-boyant and exotic liberal Opposition leaders and Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin’s one-time favourite and heir-apparent, was shot dead on February 28 night at a stone’s throw from Moscow’s iconic Red Square behind the Kremlin walls. Nemtosov was returning home at midnight walking with his 23-year-old female friend, Anna Duritskaya, a model from Ukraine, after having dinner with her in a restaurant situated in the famous departmental store, GUM. Russian President Vladimir Putin described the gruesome murder a well-planned provocation. The place and timing of the high-profile murder could not have been better for Russia’s enemies. Nemtsov’s murder taking place behind the historic cathedral in Red Square made him the much needed martyr to provide the much required morale booster to the flagging liberal Opposition baying for President Putin’s blood and seeking Russia’s destabilisation. Nemtsov’s murder took place the night before the liberal Opposition’s planned anti-crisis demonstration, symbolically called “spring”, on March 1, the first day of the Russian spring, and also reminding one of the Arab spring that brought a devastating winter to the Middle East.

A special investigation team has been set up by the Kremlin to investigate the murder and report to President Putin himself. While investi-gators have already started their work on the high-profile murder, President Putin has described it as a provocation. Expressing deep condolences to the bereaved family members, President Putin noted that this cruel incident has all the symptoms of a well-planned murder and bears an exclusively provocative character. While there are many versions of the murder doing the rounds, one question that is very pertinent is: who benefits from the murder?

The international media has already pointed fingers at the Kremlin and President Putin even before the start of the investigation just like in the case of the Malayasian Boeing shot down over the Danbass sky in July 2014. Moscow was immediately blamed for the tragedy that was followed by imposition of stricter sanctions over Russia. The international media launched a full-fledged campaign to demonise Russia over the incident. The investigations have so far failed to reveal the identity of the real culprits even eight months after the tragedy that took 300 lives. This time when a high-profile murder takes place in Moscow, the questions that should be asked are: who benefits from the murder and what could be the real motive behind the heinous crime?

Nemtsov, who was a regional Governor and subsequently a Deputy Prime Minister under President Yeltsin, had long back ceased to be a political heavyweight whose physical elimi-nation could be at all necessary for Kremlin as the international media suggests, though he was definitely among the most vocal critics of President Putin’s policies. The objectives of the well-planned murder could be to destabilise Russia and further demonise its leader, Vladimir Putin, who is already facing a savage attack in the West just because he has dared to challenge US hegemony. It is easy to guess who could be the mastermind behind the murder, if the goal was to destabilise Russia and malign its leader.

President Putin has emerged as a bone in the throat of the West after he started challenging US hegemony in global affairs, led the campaign for a just, democratic multipolar world order, prevented the US attack on Syria, and provided refuge to the US intelligence agent, Edward Snowden etc. The US had hoped that Russia would be forced to swallow the coup engineered by the West in Ukraine designed to corner Moscow in geopolitical terms and encircle it by the NATO forces. President Putin neither swallowed the coup nor conceded defeat, and instead raised the demand that Russia’s core national interests should be safeguarded while also asserting that it should be treated as an equal partner in global affairs. It is not to the liking of Washington that Moscow is demanding the status of an equal partner and challenging US foreign policy decisions and standing on the way of American geopolitical interests. That is why there is a concerted effort by Washington and the international media supported by it to demonise Putin by comparing him with Hitler. Some US leaders have gone to the extent of publicly stating that the fate of Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi is awaiting Vladimir Putin. They say Putin’s Russia is a bigger challenge than the formidable Soviet Union and hence should be punished.

The murder of Nemtsov, who was a play-boy type, colourful leader in the Rightist Russian Opposition, is set to benefit those who want to whip up Russophobia and demonise President Putin. Nemtsov’s murder is going to serve the cause of those who want to isolate Russia in the world and destabilise the domestic situation in an attempt to end Putin’s rule. Nemtsov’s murder is well-designed to galvanise the decaying anti-Putin movement in the country and provide a new lease of life to the sagging liberal Opposition in their bid to topple Putin through a Kiev-like mobilisation known as Maidan. The anti-Putin demonstration was planned to be held on March 1 in the Moscow suburb, Marino. The organisers, who are tasked to repeat Kiev’s Maidan in Moscow, were rather nervous about the lukewarm response to the demonstration. When Nemtsov’s murder took place, they asked permission for shifting the venue to the Moscow centre in order to organise the mourning procession, instead of the anti-crisis meeting and received the City Hall permission for that. Nearly 20 thousand people turned up for the procession with mostly Russian flags in their hands, not exactly a large turnout compared to the huge crowds participating in the anti-Putin rallies in the past. Nevertheless, the liberal Opposition and their Western mentors do hope that a dead Nemtsov would be able to mobilise bigger crowds than the living Nemtsov.

Some Russian experts believe that a similar type of murder case involving journalist Gangadze in the past was used to silence the then Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, who was arms-twisted to change his pro-Moscow stance. Nemtsov’s murder might be used for exerting more pressure on Putin, impose more sanctions on Russia, and force him to change his assertive foreign policy.

The investigators are working on several versions of the possible cause of the murder including Nemtsov’s commercial activities. Some experts do not rule out the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies in the high-profile murder. The financial angle is also being discussed. Another Opposition leader, Galina Starovoitova, who was tipped for the post of the Defence Minister by President Yeltsin, was murdered in the past; this was initially believed to be a political murder, but later turned out to be a murder case involving fellow travellers deprived of their share of finances supplied from foreign sources.

Nemtsov was a vocal critic of Putin’s Ukrainian policy and a frequent traveller to Kiev to demonstrate solidarity with the current regime, headed by President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, a regime that was installed as a result of a coup a year back. He was also advisor to former Ukrainian President Victor Yuschenko, another Russia-hater and blue-eyed boy of the US. Since Nemtsov could not live up to the expectations of the Ukrainian regime to mobilise a Kiev-type Maidan apparently after taking money for that, some believe, he could have been eliminated by the semi-fascist elements of the Ukrainian regime. Some others believe that representatives of Danbass rebels could have been behind the murder, as Nemtsov was among the most vocal critics of the Novorussia project. Intelligence sources point fingers at yet another angle — the involvement of Muslim extremists as Nemtsov had received threats in connection with his position on the killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris.

Some commentators point to the old enmity between Nemtsov, who was Russia’s powerful Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the energy sector, and Khodorkovsky the owner of YUKOS, Russia’s largest energy company. The investigation team has promised three million rubles to those who can provide any substantial lead to the investigation. After all, Nemtsov was a tall Opposition leader who had served in the capacity of the Governor of Nizhni Novgorod, and then as the Deputy Prime Minister under President Yeltsin, who at one point of time was contemplating to make Nemtsov his successor. You may agree or may not agree with his political philosophy, Nemtsov was no doubt a colourful, flamboyant, play-boy-type leader, who would definitely be missed in contemporary Russian politics. His murder is most certainly to be used for demonising President Putin (as it is already being done) and fomenting further Russo-phobia in the West and the world.

Prof Arun Mohanty, Chairperson, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, is the Director, Eurasian Foundation.