On February 27th 2015 Boris Nemtsov, a key Russian political leader with a longstanding history of opposing the cronyism and arbitrary crimes of Putin (from backing the Belarussian tyrant Lukashenko to invading Ukraine) was shot dead outside of the Kremlin.
An unidentified assassin approached him on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, a mere 200 meters from the walls of the Kremlin shortly before midnight, as he was walking there with his Ukrainian girlfriend. According to “pro-Putin” media, “several people” are responsible for getting out of a car and killing him. Another account states that a gunman fired six times from a vehicle, shooting him in the back.
Curiously enough, the murder happened less than two days before he was to take part in a peace rally against the almost-universally condemned Russian invasion of Ukraine, both in the Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine (in which the proxy “Donbass” army is deployed alongside regular Russian armed units). He was also preparing to stand aagainst the growing financial crisis and isolation that Putin’s mismanagement of the economy and self-inflicted international isolation (many nations have imposed sanctions as a result of his imperialist wars) have created.
In the last tweet from his Twitter account, Nemtsov called for Russians to take to the streets at the rally. In his own words: “If you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March.” Nemtsov had also been part of efforts to expose Putin’s hand in the deliberate financial mismanagement of the Sochi winter olympics.
If the signs pointing towards Kremlin collusion in his assassination weren’t damning enough, three weeks ago Nemtsov was genuinely in fear of his life, according to the text of a report available on the Sobesednik news website. To summarise his statement: “I’m afraid Putin will kill me”. Russia has a widespread history of journalists and public figures who criticise government policy and disrespect for human rights, no matter how popular, being gunned down. Anna Politkovskaya was an immensely respected and well-known journalist; indeed, the general consensus seemed to assume that her prominence would protect her, as surely, surely Putin/Kadyrov would have known better than to attract attention to their crimes. Politkovskaya was shot in the head in the elevator near her own apartment on October 7th 2006, Putin’s birthday. Was it a “macabre present” from Ramzan Kadyrov for her exposure of his vile acts? Who knows. The Russian government declined to name those ultimately responsible.
As if all the damning evidence didn’t already point to Putin and his clique, the same night following the murder, Russian government agents raided Nemtsov’s house, completely disregarding his grieving wife. They confiscated all his documents and electronic items immediately and left. It turns out that, just before he was killed, Nemtsov was preparing a document that would have exposed Putin’s blatant use of the Russian military in invading eastern Ukraine. How very convenient. That same report, on the same night of his assassination, was stolen in both written and digital format. As we speak some FSB toughs are no doubt combing through his computer and documents with a fine toothed comb, before disposing of them for good.
As if trying to add more insult to injury, Putin’s regime has tried to tap into the hysteria surrounding Islamic terrorism by blaming Da’esh for this murder. Why would Da’esh want to kill a Russian politician opposed to Putin out of the blue? It just vindicates what many have been saying all along; Da’esh are a relatively small (some 30,000 men) group of terrorists with the collective power (compared to surrounding nations) of a small militia. But in symbolic terms, in the age of post-9/11 hysteria, they’re useful for governments to justify all kinds of unsavoury acts.
Also inexplicable (or rather, very very explicable) is the sudden lack of security around the Kremlin, the building housing the Russian president, the world’s most powerful man. How a car full of men armed to the teeth was able to drive less than 200 yards from its walls is very suspect. How they were able to open fire on a renowned political figure close to the president’s offices, before fleeing in broad daylight and seemingly evading the authorities and the tight security around the Kremlin at every turn (and somehow not being detected as they conspicuously navigated the slow Moscow traffic) is even more suspect. In this day and age satellites can see a newspaper on someone’s doorstep. I find it hard to believe that they were unable to track a car as it drove away from shooting dead a politician on the doorstep of the seat of power of one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.
LifeNews, a pro-Putin media outlet (as are all Russian media outlets) was very, very quick to produce CCTV footage – some would say too quick – showing the assassins in a white van. How they were so quick to respond and produce the footage is a little unsettling, to say nothing of the fact that this suspiciously rapid release of the footage was coordinated by a campaign to defame him. Their hypothesis for his assassination? Simply that it was because he possibly owed money for the abortion of the love child of his “Ukrainian girlfriend”, or his “Ukrainian sponsors”. It must of been a hell of an important sort of money (it certainly can’t have been the floundering rouble) for several armed men to somehow evade the police in central Moscow, inexplicably manage to shoot dead a man close to Putin’s offices, and then conspicuously vanish into thin air.
Again, government involvement in this assassination is more than likely. What should, however, not be overlooked is the very symbolic gesture which is often involved in these assassinations; this is the second prominent assassination to my knowledge that has happened close to, or nearby, the Kremlin’s walls. The first involving a defector from the militia of Chechnya’s notorious pro-Russian puppet Ramzan Kadyrov, a tyrant allowed free reign to massacre, rape and torture as he pleases, on condition that he keeps the nation under Putin’s thumb.
Turncoat Chechen freedom fighter Movladi Baisarov who joined Kadyrov’s army (responsible for many abuses himself, running his own prison and torture chamber) defected from Kadyrov’s militia after a power struggle, in order to save his own skin. He went on to claim Ramzan is a “medieval tyrant”, and telling the truth about his tyranny was a death warrant, Ramzan being a “law unto himself”. If that wasn’t enough to kill him (for a man who describes himself as “up to the elbows in blood”) then the following must have been: “I know of many people executed on his express orders and I know exactly where they were buried.”
After he made these statements, 50 Chechen assassins were dispatched to Moscow on the orders of Kadyrov, supervised by first deputy prime minister Adam Delimkhanov. Their aim was to find and silence Baisarov The Kremlin was fully complicit, entering into negotiations with the assassins and collaborating on the plan to eliminate Baisarov. His FSB guard unit was suddenly removed, and when he tried calling the Lubyanka to give evidence against Kadyrov and prove his innocence, he was told: “The program is closed. Don’t call anymore.”
On November 18th 2006, he turned up for a meeting at 30 Leninsky Prospekt, and was shot dead by several Chechen assassins a few hundred meters from the Kremlin. Again, several men armed with automatic weapons were somehow able to hang around the Kremlin, kill someone in broad daylight, and escape; the aforementioned complicity of the Russian government being the reason why in this instance; they agreed with Kadyrov on the plan to let the assassins kill Baisarov. He had too many skeletons in his closet. Like Nemtsov, he knew too much about crimes that Putin was a party to.
To make the Russian government’s sanctioning of the assassin beyond dispute, the Moscow prosecutor’s office concluded that Kadyrov’s men carried out the assassination using the “methods of the republic”, and traced one of the weapons used to an AKS-74U assault rifle carried by a member of Kadyrov’s own personal militia, Sultan Rashayev.
Winding the clock forward again, how else in the Nemtsov case could the assassins have evaded the government without complicity? You can’t just ride around close to the Kremlin with firearms; if everyone could (and many, many people despise Putin) it is doubtful that the Russian president would be alive today. Even when the Kremlin isn’t directly carrying out the assassination (in the case of Baisarov) it makes no attempt to stop it either.
Both assassins were carried out next to the Kremlin. This brings forth an important question: why? The notion of space as a tool of power is the simple reason why. Space has always been a symbolic tool of power; whoever controls space, in any way, shape or form, controls the nation. For example, the leader with unquestioned dominance over public spaces in cities, swathes of rural areas and over government buildings and other forms of infrastructure is well placed to enforce his will.
Space is also important as a symbolic tool of power; control and use of impressive, intimidating or symbolic structures or symbols of power (in Putin’s case, the Kremlin) is a constant reminder to citizens of the power that the leader and the state possess, embodied in their impressive dominance of space, and thus of the political discourse. When Russian citizens consider Putin’s regime and see the impressive spaces he dominates (the impenetrable fortress of the Kremlin is again the best example, or the ominous Lubyanka building) they are intimidated and constantly reminded by their imposing nature of the power the state possesses. This makes coercing would-be dissidents into silence an important psychological tool of the regime.
How does this relate to the assassinations of Nemtsov and Baisarov? In short, the choice of spot to assassinate them on, next to the Kremlin, is very symbolic indeed. It is used by the state and its allies as a symbolic gesture to all their current and would-be opponents to speak to them. The message for them is simply this: “These men were assassinated in the shade of the Kremlin, and therefore under the auspices of the state, of our state. We may deny it officially, but we both know who is responsible.” By assassinating opponents in the shadow of the Kremlin, the message is clear: “We will come for you if you speak. We have no shame in pursuing you anywhere, regardless of who is watching on the outside.”
Nemtsov’s assassination seems to have been a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of Putin, a man who is said to have feared events at the Maidan, and the ramifications they could have both at home and abroad; indeed, one of the Russian government’s biggest fears is a pro-NATO state on their borders. Nemtsov at the time of his assassination was openly protesting against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for Russians to rise up and speak out against him without fear. For a Putin with his back to the wall, this is the last thing he needs.
The face of the regime may have changed since the fall of communism, but the tactics of maintaining a stranglehold are the same; namely false flag assassinations. In 1934, Joseph Stalin faced a crisis; after the fiasco of collectivisation in which millions perished, the communist central committee gave him 292 negative votes. His popular friend Sergei Kirov, only got three negative votes. Some of its members approached Kirov and tried to persuade him to make a power grab. Kirov reported this to Stalin out of loyalty to his friend. At the same time, Kirov was popularly calling for conciliatory measures towards dissidents oppressed by Stalin’s hard line policies, and increasing in popularity. Months later, Kirov was shot dead by an assassin in the corridor of the Leningrad communist party headquarters on December 1st 1934.
It later emerged that the Soviet secret police (NKVD) had been appallingly negligent in their handling of Kirov. In fact, Stalin seems to have ordered secret police chief Genrikh Yagoda to carry out the assassination. Kirov’s good friend Feodor Medved looked after Kirov’s security, his deputy Vania Zaporozhets was ordered to undertake the job of assassinating Kirov. Checking party records, he found the pathetic figure of Leonid Nikolayev, a vindictive felon expelled from the communist party. Zaporozhets clandestinely provided Kirov with instructions and a 7.62 mm Nagant M1895 revolver. After his first attempt to kill Kirov in the Smolny Institute (in which he was arrested, and his revolver returned to him in violation of Soviet law) in October 1934, Stalin withdrew most of Kirov’s bodyguards and left Nikolayev free. On December 1st 1934, the guard post at the Leningrad party headquarters (Kirov was regional leader) was, on higher orders, left unmanned. An unhindered Nikolayev managed to make his way to the third floor and shoot Kirov dead in the corridor.
Like Putin today, Stalin manipulated the symbolic value of space by using the Leningrad party headquarters for the assassination to make a point; if you opposed Comrade Stalin, you wouldn’t be safe anywhere. Even within party buildings. Politkovskaya’s assassination in her own apartment building served as a similar gesture. Nobody is safe, in their own homes, or elsewhere, from Putin’s vindictiveness.
Stalin used this as a pretext for a huge political purge of his enemies, blaming it on undefined provocateurs and conspirators. Putin’s trajectory so far has been to play this card too; he has already gone out of his way to establish his innocence. His spokesperson released a statement blaming enemies of “an exclusively provocational character”. In other words, nobody look at Putin, one of his enemies was just murdered in an attempt to make him look bad. I certainly don’t have much confidence in the man tasked with leading Putin’s “investigation” into the murder, especially owing to the fact that he once threatened to behead a journalist in a forest. Putin had used a similarly suspicious set of deaths, apartment bombings in Moscow, to justify re-invading Chechnya in 1999. It later turned out that there was ample evidence that the FSB had staged the bombings…
One thing should be abundantly clear, as it has been from the actions of previous tyrants; Putin has literally no shame in going after anyone he perceives as standing in the way of his ambitions. He has no regard whatsoever for public or world opinion. Why should he? Unaccountable tyrants never have to worry about answering to anyone. Not that Putin’s “fan-boys” will care too much. AKA the unsavoury collection of faux “leftists” and “respectable” racists in the west, the fanatical Russian nationalists at home, and any number of people who love to play devil’s advocate for tyrants because they so despise their own governments. When an act of “western imperialism” is in motion they are outraged; when Putin invades Ukraine his victims are a seething mass of “fascist scum” unworthy of the bullets he kills them with.
There can be western imperialism and evil CIA stooges around every corner, but there is no such thing as Russian imperialism. To critice Putin is to be a “Zionist” (despise Putin’s close ties to Israel) a “fascist” (despite the prolific numbers of fascists fighting for Putin in Ukraine), a CIA agent (because it’s impossible to oppose Putin and not be paid), you name it. When Putiin invades a nation and its forces resist, they are fascists. When he imprisons homosexuals and deprives them of rights they are potential paedophiles (despite once being pictured kissing a young boy’s stomach). When he backs a genocidal tyrant like Bashar al-Assad or slaughters Chechnya he is fighting “terrorism” by bombing civilians to bits. The dictators change, but the nature of the engineered assassinations and manipulation of public space as a symbolic tool of coercion remains the same.
In the words of Gary Kasparov: “Politkovskaya was gunned down. MH17 was shot out of the sky. Now Boris is dead. As always, Kremlin will blame opposition, or CIA, whatever.” It remains to be seen how long the world will give Putin impunity to rape and murder his way across the world while attributing blame to his victims..