Former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in Moscow yesterday.
Officials say Nemtsov was crossing a bridge in view of the Kremlin at around 11:40 p.m. when multiple attackers (who have yet to be identified) pulled up in a white car and shot him four times in the back before driving off.
Nemtsov — who served as Deputy Prime Minister under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s — has never been a fan of Putin, and became an outspoken opposition leader after Putin was elected president in 2000. According to CNN,
“Nemtsov, 55, had been arrested several times for speaking against Putin’s government. The most recent arrests were in 2011 when he protested the results of parliamentary elections and in 2012 when tens of thousands protested against Putin.”
In recent months, Nemtsov was particularly vocal about the conflict in Ukraine, criticizing Putin for involving Russia and for lying to the Russian people about this involvement. In his final tweet, Nemtsov urged Russia’s fractured political opposition to come together for an anti-war march he was planning for Sunday.
“If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,”
Just hours before he was shot to death, Nemtsov was at a local radio station promoting the march.
Ilya Yashin, a fellow opposition leader, added that Nemtsov had been working on a report about the involvement of Russian troops in Ukraine, something the Russian government continues to deny to this day.
Nemtsov seemed to be very aware of the fact that he was risking his life criticizing Putin and the Russian government in this way. In fact, in an interview with Russia’s Sobesednik news website earlier this month, Nemtsov said:
“I’m afraid Putin will kill me. I believe that he was the one who unleashed the war in the Ukraine. I couldn’t dislike him more.”
Putin, for his part, has denied any involvement in the murder. In a telegram to Nemtsov’s mother, Putin called the killing “vile and cynical” and promised to do everything within his power to make sure the perpetrators “are properly punished”.
According to a spokesman, Putin has assumed “personal control” over the investigation. In a statement condemning Nemtsov’s murder, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Russia to carry out a, “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation”.
Nemtsov’s death will also deal a blow to political relations between Ukraine and Russia, at a time when the tensions over eastern Ukraine seemed to be starting to ease.
“[Nemtsov was a] bridge between Ukraine and Russia. The murderers’ shot has destroyed it. I think it is not by accident,”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement published on his administration’s Facebook page.
On Saturday (Feb. 28), a number of Ukrainians left flowers outside of the Russian embassy in Kiev to show their respects to Nemtsov.
Following the news of Nemtsov’s death, his fellow opposition leaders decided to transform Sunday’s march into a march of mourning.
Russian authorities also reversed an earlier decision not to issue a permit for the march, and will now allow up to 50,000 people to participate.
Violent deaths of Putin opponents over the years (courtesy of the BBC):
April 2003 – Liberal politician Sergey Yushenkov assassinated near his Moscow home
July 2003 – Investigative journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin died after 16-day mysterious illness
July 2004 – Forbes magazine Russian editor Paul Klebnikov shot from moving car on Moscow street, died later in hospital
October 2006 – Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya shot dead outside her Moscow apartment
November 2006 – Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died nearly three weeks after drinking tea laced with polonium in London hotel
March 2013 – Boris Berezovsky, former Kremlin power broker turned Putin critic, found dead in his UK home