It is reminiscent of the chilling Soviet era when opposition leaders who did not follow the state diktats often ended in detentions, exiles and sometimes death. Thousands of stunned Russians laid flowers and lit candles at the bridge where opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed. The murder also highlighted the risk of being an outspoken critic of the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
The shooting happened just before midnight when Nemtsov was walking across the bridge over the Moskva River in central Moscow with a Ukrainian woman, who was unhurt. Nemtsov was shot four times in the back by assailants who came in a white car. Police had at the start sealed off the blood stained bridge close to the red walls of the Kremlin and Red Square for two hours overnight before hosing it down as hundreds of Russians came to pay their respects with flowers and candles to one of the biggest critic and opponents of President Putin. Mr. Nemtsov was particularly critical of Putin’s Ukraine policy and Russia’s role in Ukraine.
There was a huge pile of flowers (almost three feet) which was interspersed with a white paper saying “We are all Nemtsov”.
Opposition activist Mark Galperin said, “People are afraid to support our movement. Opposition activists receive threats every day and Boris was no exception. But they won’t stop us.”
Nemtsov was a former deputy prime minister and was highly critical of Putin and his Ukraine policy. He had on many occasions talked about threats and feared he will be murdered. Nemtsov remains one of the most prominent opposition figures to be killed in 15 years of Mr. Putin’s rule. Nemtsov killing is reminiscent of the chaotic Post Soviet era and further raised questions about the credibility of the opposition to stand up and mount any challenge against Mr. Putin.
Kremlin was quick to wash its hands off the whole affair and President Putin asked for the killers to be found quickly. The investigation has now presidential control and Putin described the killing as a ‘grave provocation’ before the opposition sponsored protests on Sunday.
Mikhail Kasyanov, an opposition leader and a former prime minister under Putin, said at the scene, “That a leader of the opposition could be shot beside the walls of the Kremlin is beyond imagination. There can be only one version: that he was shot for telling the truth.”
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev cautioned against jumping to conclusions said, “Certain forces will try to use the killing to their own advantage. They are thinking how to get rid of Putin.”
The killing has evoked international condemnation, with US President Obama calling for a prompt, impartial and transparent investigation so that the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to justice.