Is Boris Nemtsov's Killing a Sign of Russia's Weakness?
Hours after Boris Nemtsov's death, accusations are being hurled from all sides in all possible directions.
President Putin, opposition activists, Islamic terrorists, and even US agents have already been pointed as likely murderers in what indeed seems as a case of "contract killing".
Here in Bulgaria, Russophile journalists have even hinted Washington is seeking to foment disunity and unrest in Russia and "would hold a certain interest". "Hawks", on the other hand, insist Putin's footprint can be traced here, with the President allegedly determined to crack down on any dissent. All that said, Western leaders themselves are cautious in their reaction (only urging a probe), while some experts keep suggesting they are secretly convinced it was an opposition crackdown.
But, with all due respect to justice and rule of law - and hoping the case will be brought to quick end - one has to ask: is the "Who"-question the most shocking part?
Nemtsov is indeed a remarkable figure in Russia's democratic history: both as a Deputy PM for a short time under Boris Yeltsin and (before and afterwards) as a staunch reformer who put in effort to dismantle the Soviet system. Prior to Alexey Navalny's emergence, he was one of the West's favourite personalities in the Russian political life, not only while in opposition but also in power.
But his influence on the Russian political life was relatively limited at the moment: millions-strong rallies held in 2011 and 2012 are now a thing of the past.
In a situation of a currency crisis, a constant geopolitical battle and negative repercussions of sanctions, this might at first seem strange; but Putin's stance on Ukraine has boosted his approval among Russians and not much is needed to mute dissension without any violence, against the backdrop of the President's skyrocketing rating.
"He was preparing a report on Ukraine," his colleagues argue to hint that the political elite in Russia was keen on preventing disclosure of information that could "prove" ins involvement in the Donbass unrest. But in a situation of propaganda warfare that has been ongoing in the past year, everybody has some kind of "evidence." Neither is it clear how Nemtsov could be used as a "sacrifical victim" as investigators suggest, given that his murder could also raise fear among citizens, instead of mobilizing them.
At the same time it is hard to turn a blind eye on the fact that the murder was carried out in an area with generally tightened security. Whoever was behind the murder, he seems to be well aware that Russia is in a situation far worse than what many describe as a "police state": it is helpless to tackle internal infighting and to handle the domestic climate now poisoned with nationalism and hatred.
Russia's capacity to protect its own citizens and to swiftly bring those responsible to justice is now called into question, rather than the political status quo. This is what President Putin, who looked genuinely concerned following Nemtsov's murder, has to think of before embarking on a next move.
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