As Kerry travels to Moscow, Putin thwarts investigation into assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015

As John Kerry travels to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria and the Ukraine, Putin’s cover-up “investigation” into those responsible for Boris Nemtsov’s assassination on February 27, 2015 is reaching its dénoument.

See Carol Morello, “Kerry to ask for Putin’s help in Syrian negotiations,” Washington Post, December 14, 2015 (10:21 a.m.).

The intellectual author(s) of the execution of the leading opposition leader in Russia are not likely to ever be officially identified, as the “investigation” into Nemtsov’s murder draws to a close.

The trail leads directly to Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman of Chechnya, who may well be the key figure directly responsible for the assassination. Whether he was acting on the orders or with the knowing acquiescence of Vladimir Putin may never be known.

Kadyrov rules in Chechnya as a virtual dictator, with the strong backing of Valadimir Putin. He has been able to block the entry of Russian investigators and other officials into his fiefdom. Shortly after the assassination of Nemtsov, he swore a feudal oath of eternal personal loyalty to Putin.

The Russian president himself disappeared from public view for some 10 days following the Nemtsov assassination, amid rumors that there were rumblings in the Russian intellegence services.

Those arrested as the tirggermen in the assassination were officials from a special unit of the Chechnyan security forces (the “Sever” or North unit) which had unusually close personal ties to Kadyrov. The man charged as the leader, who made an immediate confession, later recanted charging that it had been extracted by torture.

The details of the investigations and the names of those involved are contained in a report by Julia Smirnova, Die Welt’s award-winning correspondent in Moscow.


Julia Smirnova (Moskau), “Warum ist es so schwer, Nemzows Mörder zu finden? Die Ermittlungen im Fall Boris Nemzow stehen kurz vor dem Abschluss. Viele Spuren führen nach Tschetschenien – doch es gilt als unwahrscheinlich, dass die Drahtzieher hinter dem Mord belangt werden,” Die Welt, 14. Dezember 2015 (16:28 Uhr).

In reading her account, it is useful to bear in mind that she is in Russia, reporting from Moscow, and as a result limited in significant regard in what she can say. That said, she has been perhaps the most courageous Western correspondent reporting on Putin and Russia from within the country, on issues ranging from the Crimea to the war in the eastern Ukraine, to the assassination of Boris Netmsov.

The night he was murdered Nemtsov posed an unusually grave threat to Vladimir Putin, as he had gathered testimony from Russian soldiers regarding their involvement in the war in the eastern Ukraine, and was putting the final touches on a report that would make his evidence public in the coming days. Such a detailed and substantiated report might have pierced Putin’s propaganda bubble in which he steadfastly maintained that no Russian troops were in the Donbass.

Hours before he was assassinated, Nemtsov made a lengthy appearance on the Moscow Echo radio station in which he outspokenly attacked Putin.

It is certainly possible that Putin, in a fit of rage, then ordered his assassination, using Kadyrov to carry it out. Whether that was the case we are not likely to learn so long as Putin remains in power.


“REPRISE: After disappearing act, Vladimir Putin remains prime suspect in Nemtsov assassination,” The Trenchant Observer, March 19, 2015, and the links to articles it contains.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as he travels to Moscow to meet with Putin on Syria, ISIS and the Ukraine, would do well to bear in mind that he will be speaking to a man who may be the person who ordered Boris Nemtsov’s assassination, and who in any event is clearly responsible for the cover-up which has prevented investigations to proceed to uncover who was in fact responsible for the execution, only hundreds of yards from the gates of the Kremlin.

Smirnova’s report in Die Welt includes a photograph showing just how close the bridge on which Nemtsov was killed is to the Kremlin walls. It strains credulity to think that the assassination might have been carried out without Putin’s authorization.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and 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. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , 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, Dr. Rowles 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. Dr. Rowles 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.=LL.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, Dr. Rowles 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 some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.