Hours after criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin on the radio and promoting an anti-war rally in Moscow this weekend, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on Friday while crossing a bridge near the Kremlin. Recognized as an economic reformer and outspoken political leader critical of Putin’s rampant corruption, Nemtsov feared the Russian president would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine. Since Putin assumed the presidency on December 31, 1999, over a hundred Russian journalists, authors, and activists have been killed.
Shortly before midnight on Friday, Nemtsov was crossing the Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge accompanied by a Ukrainian woman when a white car approached them. Conflicting accounts do not agree on what happened next. According to Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, at least seven shots were fired from the passing car. But according to Russian-language news website Meduza, several people had exited the car before shooting Nemtsov.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Alexeeva announced that Nemtsov had been shot four times in the back, while his female companion remained unharmed. Six shell casings were found at the crime scene, which is located only 500ft from the Kremlin. Investigators believe Nemtsov’s murder was the result of a drive-by shooting.
From 1991 to 1997, Nemtsov served as governor of one of Russia’s largest cities, Nizhny Novgorod. Appointed Boris Yeltsin’s First Deputy Prime Minister in March 1997, Nemtsov led reforms to make bidding on government contracts more transparent and competitive while reducing household utility rates by forcing railroads and electricity suppliers to lower their prices. After resigning from his position when Yeltsin dissolved the government, Nemtsov was elected to the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s Parliament.
Since leaving the Duma in 2003, Nemtsov has founded and led several organizations and opposition parties while being arrested multiple times for attending political rallies against Putin. On November 25, 2007, Nemtsov was reportedly arrested during an unauthorized protest against Putin. On December 31, 2010, he was arrested along with other opposition leaders for attending a legal demonstration against government restrictions on public protests. On December 6, 2011, he was arrested again during a rally against alleged fraud in Russia’s parliamentary elections.
Serving as co-chairman of the registered political party, the Republican Party of Russia – People’s Freedom Party (RPR-PARNAS) since 2012, Nemtsov accused Putin and his cohorts of embezzling billions of dollars from funds designated for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In an article published on February 10, Nemtsov purported that Putin had unleashed the war in the Ukraine and admitted, “I’m afraid Putin will kill me.”
Hours before his death, Nemtsov appeared on Ekho Moskvy radio and posted a tweet rallying people to attend an anti-war protest planned for Sunday. Organizers of the march against Putin’s war in the Ukraine have no intension to cancel the demonstration, even though, one of their leaders has been assassinated and another remains in jail. One of the other organizers, Alexei Navalny has been detained in jail since February 19.
“This murder, politically, it hits the spot, because if the message is to send a scare throughout the opposition movement, this is one thing to do,” said Vladimir Milov, an opposition leader who had been planning the Sunday rally alongside Nemtsov. “Scared or not scared, we will carry on.”
Since Putin ascended to the presidency on December 31, 1999, more than a hundred Russian journalists, authors, and human rights workers have been killed. On October 7, 2006, investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death in her apartment building in Moscow. She had been writing a book exposing Putin’s political corruption and numerous Chechen war crimes committed by the FSB. Coincidentally, Putin’s birthday is also on October 7.
Investigating the murder of Politkovskaya, former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko met with former KGB officers at the Millennium Hotel in London on November 1, 2006. Unbeknownst to Litvinenko, former KGB officers Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun had contaminated his teacup with polonium-210, an extremely rare radioactive isotope made in nuclear reactors. After fleeing to Russia and receiving treatment for radiation poisoning, Kovtun and Lugovoi denied murdering Litvinenko even though the radiation trail began and ended with them.
During his final days, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his slow, agonizing death. In 2001, Litvinenko wrote “Blowing Up Russia” and accused the FSB of carrying out the apartment bombings that left 293 dead while blaming Chechen rebels for the attacks. In his book, Litvinenko named the FSB officers responsible for the bombings and detailed how the bombs were planted to justify a second war with Chechnya. He also wrote that Vladimir Putin was a pedophile who had covered up drug trafficking and rare metal smuggling before his promotion to Director of the FSB.
Natalya Estemirova, a Russian human rights activist who had worked with Politkovskaya, was abducted from her home in Chechnya on the morning of July 15, 2009. Witnesses reported seeing four unidentified assailants push Estemirova into a car as she screamed for help. Her body was later found with bullets wounds to the head and chest.
On July 9, 2004, American journalist Paul Klebnikov was shot four times after leaving the Forbes office in Moscow. Shot by unknown assailants firing from a slowly moving car, Klebnikov died at the hospital when the elevator taking him to the operating room malfunctioned. As chief editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, Klebnikov had been investigating Russia’s wealthiest individuals at the time of his death.
“Boris Nemtsov was a stark opposition leader who criticized the most important state officials in our country, including President Vladimir Putin. As we have seen, such criticism in Russia is dangerous for one’s life,” opposition activist Ilya Yashin observed.