27 February marks the fifth anniversary of the murder of a politician, but the masterminds and organisers of this crime still enjoy impunity
On 27 February, five years will have passed since the day on which Boris Nemtsov, a Russian political activist and recognised leader of the opposition, was shot to death in the back by hired assassins on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, in the centre of Moscow and close to the Kremlin.
Five individuals involved in carrying out the crime were held in detention facilities for varying lengths of time, but the organisers and masterminds behind this high-profile murder have still not been identified. What is more, many Kremlin critics believe that no attempts are being made to carry out a full investigation.
The OSCE also believes that many questions relating to the political assassination of Boris Nemtsov remain unanswered due to the limited nature of the Russian investigation.
According to an OSCE report published on 20 February; “His death was a tragedy for Russia and had a strong impact on the political climate, spreading fear and possibly opening up for further attacks and repression.”
Independent experts tend to agree that individuals from President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle may have been involved in the crime, in particular Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic.
The Russian opposition is planning to organise large-scale marches in Moscow and a number of other cities over the next few days to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the politician’s death.
Valery Borshchev, Co-Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, remembers Boris Nemtsov from the time before he became a famous politician, and when – back in Nizhny Novgorod, before he was appointed Governor of the Region (between 1991 and 1997) – he organised an event with those who had known the academician Andrey Sakharov.
“The speakers included [the human rights activists] Sergei Kovalev, Larisa Bogoraz, Tatyana Velikanova and myself,” said the Co-Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group in an interview with Voice of America. “That was when we first met. I can still remember how Nemtsov dealt with the agitators who wanted to sabotage the meeting. He even came to blows with one of them and got his finger bitten. And this was the Boris Yefimovich who later became such a wise and serious politician.”
According to Valery Borshchev, Nemtsov stuck to his principles and was uncompromising when he became a member of the opposition, and this was a source of irritation for many people, especially the authorities.
In his words, “This led people to think that if they got Nemtsov out of the way, the political elites would be pleased with them. As we know, the masterminds and organisers of this crime have still not been identified. That kind of thing can only happen with the knowledge and connivance of the authorities. After all, they have not even done so much as interrogate those suspected of being the masterminds and organisers.”
In Borshchev’s opinion, however, the public still remembers Nemtsov as a symbol of resistance and the coming together of the opposition, and the authorities made a serious miscalculation if they expected the opposite. Like many others, he plans to march in memory of Boris Nemtsov on 29 February.
Vadim Prokhorov, the lawyer representing Boris Nemtsov’s family, said to Voice of America that Nemtsov had many good points, but the one that stood out for him was the politician’s habit of not only taking a keen interest in the legal side of the proceedings initiated against him, but also getting personally involved. According to the lawyer, his keen interest in these proceedings became apparent on more than one occasion.
“That was the case when he was with charged with administrative offences, when he was hauled up before the court on civil-law charge and a plea was submitted to Putin, and when they tried to pin criminal charges on him for the ‘assault and battery’ he had allegedly perpetrated against a member of the ‘Nashi’ movement. In all of these proceedings he paid a great deal of attention to the legal side and spent a long time reading about the finer details, and I believe that this was the reason why we succeeded. Five of the seven claims brought by Yury Luzhkov, the then Mayor of Moscow, were rebutted, and we were awarded a complete victory in the case brought by his wife, Yelena Baturina.”
According to the lawyer, Nemtsov prepared very carefully for the court proceedings by familiarising himself with all the details, and he enjoyed getting involved in dealings with the courts.
“Once I was away when he was detained yet again for participating in an unauthorised public event, but he managed to draft the necessary submissions to the court himself, just as skilfully as though he had been a lawyer. Boris was someone who learned things very quickly and could pick things up on the fly. And it wasn’t just that he soaked everything up like a sponge; he was able to take what he had learned and apply it creatively in real life.”
Prokhorov has been informed that the investigation into the murder of Boris Nemtsov has been extended until May of this year.
“But nothing is really happening, of course. It’s blindingly obvious that the highest political powers in the country have prohibited any real investigation, and won’t allow [the investigators] to dig too deeply.”
Having concluded on that note, he expresses his hope that a full investigation into the crime will be carried out after the country experiences a regime change.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds