Nemtsov assassination represents a stark warning to the opposition: “Criticize Putin, especially on the Ukraine, and you may die” (Updated March 6, 2015)

UPDATE (March 6, 2004)

Steffen Dobbert “Interview: ‘Putin hat Nemzow exekutieren lassen.’ Was Putin mit Hitler verbindet, und weshalb nur Russlands Präsident hinter dem Tod von Nemzow stehen kann: der Kreml-Experte Juri Felschtinsky über Putins Politikwandel,” Die Zeit, 6. März 2015 (Aktualisiert um 14:47 Uhr).

Ben Judah, “Boris Nemtsov murder: Putin now governs mostly through terror and propaganda; Any plot against Boris Nemtsov would have been known by the Kremlin. Putin either killed him or tolerated his death,” The Telegraph, February 28, 2015 (12:49 p.m.)



Julia Smirnova (Moskau), “Wer nicht für Putin ist, fürchtet sich spätestens jetzt; Was bedeutet der Mord an Boris Nemzow? Russlands Oppositionelle haben Angst vor weiterer Gewalt – und vor einem unglaublichen Vorwurf: dass in Wahrheit sie die Täter seien,” Die Welt, 28. Februar 2015 (20:12 Uhr).

Smirnova makes a number of critical points:

1) The area in the very heart of the Kremlin is under extraordinarily high surveillance;

Nemtsov was killed some 100 meters from the walls of the Kremlin. Nothing that happens here escapes observation by the security and surveillance system, which is controlled by the president’s security service.

2) Russian security forces must have been shadowing Nemtsov very closely;

3) Nemtsov was working on a book which gathered together evidence that Russia had instigated the conflict in the eastern Ukraine, and was supplying arms and troops to the separatists.

4) Nemtsov was helping to organize a massive demonstration this Sunday against Russia’s actions in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine.

5) Hours before his death, Nemtsov said on the Russian radio station “Echo Moskvy”, “Putin has pursued in the Ukraine an insane, aggressive, and deadly policy, for our country and many of our citizens.” The annexation of the Crimean peninsula, he said, was “a crime”.

See “Boris Nemtsov: Final interview given by Putin critic just hours before his murder – in full; Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered last night outside the Kremlin, had given an interview to radio station Ekho Moskvyat 8.07pm on Friday – less than four hours before he was killed,” The Telegraph, February 28, 2015 (12:33 p.m.).

See also “Boris Nemzow: Sein letztes Interview; Drei Stunden vor seinem Tod gab Putin-Kritiker Boris Nemzow ein letztes Interview, es wurde zu seinem politischen Testament. In 45 Radio-Minuten rechnet er mit der russischen Ukraine-Politik ab, Der Spiegel, 28. Februar 2015 (19:57 Uhr).

Anlass für das Interview war der Anti-Krisen-Marsch, zu dem der 55-jährige frühere Vize-Regierungschef zusammen mit oppositionellen Weggefährten für Sonntag aufgerufen hatte. “Dieser Marsch fordert den sofortigen Stopp des Krieges mit der Ukraine, er fordert, dass Putin seine Aggression einstellt”, sagte Nemzow in das Mikrofon des Radiosenders.

Putins Vorgehen im Konflikt mit dem Nachbarland sei auch für die schwere Wirtschaftskrise in Russland verantwortlich. “Die Sanktionen, dann die Kapitalflucht: all das wegen Putins unsinniger Aggression gegen die Ukraine.” In dem Interview wiederholte Nemzow den Vorwurf, Moskau unterstütze die prorussischen Separatisten in der Ostukraine mit eigenen Truppen, was der Kreml stets zurückgewiesen hat.

It is not clear who was behind the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. What is clear is that he directly threatened Vladimir Putin’s propaganda narrative about the Ukraine, stating he would publish a report within days that would lay out proof of Russia’s instigation and direct involvement in the war in the eastern Ukraine.

By his participation in the “Anti-Crisis” demonstration planned for Sunday, which was to call for an end to Russia’s policy of military aggression in the Ukraine, Nemtsov also must have triggered the fears of Putin and other Kremlin officials that demonstrations like those in 2012 could resume.

Yet the threat Nemtsov represented was not that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would storm the Kremlin, but rather that through his report or book and large demonstations calling for an end of the war in the Ukraine, Nemtsov might succeed in piercing the giant bubble of grotesque lies and war propaganda that Putin has spun around the subject of the Ukraine.

If and when that bubble is pierced, the hot gas may burst not only the propaganda balloon of the Ukraine narrative, but also the balloon of Putin’s popularity and the myth that Russia’s present economic crisis is not the result of his war on the Ukraine and the economic sanctions, capital flight and other consequences it has produced.

Nemtsov represented, in this sense, a grave threat to Putin and his hold on power. If the propaganda bubble were to burst, Putin could quickly encounter serious trouble within Russia.

That is why, for Putin, the greatest threat, the greatest enemy, is the truth, about the war in the Ukraine and its connection to the economic crisis in Russia. With his insistence on telling the truth and proving that Putin’s narrative of there being no Russian troops or other forces in the eastern Ukraine, Nemtsov embodied that threat.

While it is not yet clear–if it ever will be–who ordered the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, sometimes little details can be highly suggestive of what really happened.

One such detail was the fact that, shortly after Nemtsov’s death, Russian security forces raided his house, carring away documents, computers, and hard disks.

Der Oppositionelle Ilja Jaschin sagte am Samstag, Nemzow habe zuletzt an einem Bericht gearbeitet, der die Beteiligung der russischen Armee im Krieg gegen die Ukraine belegen sollte. Als erste Maßnahme nach der Ermordung durchsuchten Ermittler Nemzows Wohnung und nahmen Dokumente, Computer und Festplatten mit.

–Julian Hans (Moskau), “Ermordung von Boris Nemzow: ‘Die politische Elite wird vernichtet,'” Suddeutsche Zeitung, 28. Februar 2015 (18:45 Uhr).

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"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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