Former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov’s assassination on February 27 made headlines around the world, after he was shot four times in the back just before midnight while on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, days before he was expected to lead a rally against President Putin. Nemtsov enjoyed what many describe as a successful political career under former Russian President Boris Yeltzin, and had played a huge role in developing Russia’s economy as the Soviet Union came to an end. However, with respect to current Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov was an outspoken critic, most recently about Russian military interference in Ukraine and the financial crisis it has been facing. So who was behind the assassinations? Do all signs point to Putin and the Russian security apparatus? Turns out it isn’t all that simple, but you don’t have to go too far away from Moscow to learn more.
The isolated Chechen Republic southwest of the Russian Federation could have had a role to play in this. The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, despite his past experiences as a militia rebel and some very inflammatory actions and statements on Russia and the West, has strong ties with Putin. But what does this have to do with Nemtsov? Kadyrov not only supports Putin’s policies, but also criticizes the Western-backed liberal entities within Russia, which include the likes of Nemtsov. Could he have been behind the assassination? At the moment, it appears possible, whether or not he had Putin’s consent.
On March 8, a Moscow court charged two Chechen men with the killing of Nemstov. One of the two men, Zaur Dadyev, admitted that he was involved in the murder. While another suspect committed suicide in a standoff with Russian police, there are three other suspects who are still in custody at the moment. Reporters and analysts are critical of this scenario, given that Russian media was relatively silent about the murder for about a week before these developments. Kadyrov claimed that Dadyev, who pleaded guilty, was a devout Muslim and was enraged over Nemstov’s support for the controversial French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Currently, Nemstov’s memorial is visited regularly in Moscow, and Putin continues to condemn the murder as a “contract killing.” Is it possible that a few angry Chechens left the shaky Caucasus Mountains to Moscow to assassinate Nemstov over his liberal views and values, just days before he was ready to rally against Putin’s economic and foreign policy? We may never know.