Zaur Dadayev (C), charged with involvement in the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, is escorted in a court building in Moscow, March 8, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Russian court on Sunday charged two men with the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on the night of February 27. One of them, a former police officer from Chechnya, reportedly confessed to being involved in what police termed a contract killing.
Three other suspects were detained, while a sixth threw a grenade at police who came to arrest him in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and killed himself with another grenade on Saturday. Nemtsov was shot four times in the back while walking with his girlfriend along a bridge near the Kremlin.
It almost doesn’t matter who actually shot Nemtsov. The bottom line is that during Vladimir Putin’s 15 years in power, an inordinate number of his opponents have met mysterious and violent deaths, all of which remain unsolved. The democracy-deficient giant that Russia always was and still continues to be invariably gives rise to exotic conspiracy theories aplenty – the more far-fetched, the greater their hold on the public’s imagination.
In that sense the case of Nemtsov – a former deputy prime minister and the most prominent Putin critic to have been assassinated – isn’t fundamentally different from the preceding murders of Russian dissidents.
Each killing put Putin under severe suspicion, and each time Putin hotly denied any culpability. He habitually ascribed what he decried as a “tragedy” to a sinister “provocation” by unnamed foes whose aim was to tarnish his reputation.
From that point on, the well-oiled Russian rumor mill spun wildly, and stories about assorted nefarious plots emerged one after the other in rapid succession. In each incident the police was said to have launched exhaustive investigations to apprehend the slayers.
This is exactly what we witness now. Nemtsov is described as no more than an irritating fly for Putin, arguably why it made no sense for the Kremlin’s strongman to bother with him. Indeed, even if Putin had been remotely tempted, say some analysts, he’d have realized that a hit on as famous a target as Nemtsov would lead to detrimental repercussions in the West.
But does Putin truly care about opinions of him far from home? Had he cared, he might not have become embroiled in the Ukrainian conflict.
While the 55-year-old Nemtsov was well known and well regarded outside Russia, he was hardly a popular figure inside it. If anything, he was very close to pariah status – denigrated continuously by the media and portrayed as a traitor.
Complicating things further was Nemtsov’s Jewish connection. His mother, who raised him alone, is Jewish, although he described himself as a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, unlike some, Nemtsov never concealed his origins and openly spoke of his Jewish mother.
Nemtsov’s lineage became another theme for his detractors, among them extreme Russian nationalists and avowed anti-Semites, who never cease emphasizing the fact that much of the liberal opposition in Russia – which is much smaller than liberals in the West acknowledge – is made up of intellectuals with “cosmopolitan” and Jewish links.
That suffices to make Jews in Russia leery of what lies ahead. Both the adjectives “cosmopolitan” and “Jewish” are to this day used as pejoratives in some Russian circles.
That, too, underscores the irrelevance of who actually took out a contract on Nemtsov’s life. While no one has produced any evidence that the Kremlin had anything to do with it, even if Putin didn’t personally order Nemtsov shot, he and his entourage helped create the atmosphere that invited the assassination.
The nature of the Russian regime isn’t without significance to our region as a whole and to Israel in particular. Putin’s Russia appears to be quite fearless of the current American leadership. Hence, while it ostensibly belongs to the international coalition negotiating a deal with Iran, Russia also supplied Iran with nuclear reactors and know-how, violated the sanctions against it and supports Iranian collusion in Syria with embattled Damascus dictator Bashar Assad.
To boot, Russia now offers reactors to other Mideastern states, benefiting from a nuclear arms race that it instigated.
Despite his disapproving words pouring scorn on Putin, US President Barack Obama appears not to be doing much to stop Russia.
Putin is confident enough not to give a damn, neither abroad and certainly not at home, where it is plainly dangerous to oppose him. One by one, his key critics meet an untimely end in obscure circumstances, regardless of who exactly gave the specific orders and who pulled the trigger.