On the assassination of a Russian opposition figure

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was killed in the very heart of Moscow

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

A week ago, Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was killed in the very heart of Moscow behind the Kremlin’s walls on the eve of an opposition march. The reaction came immediately as a tsunami wave from both sides of political establishment; Russia and from abroad. Social media platforms were boiling up, and it seemed as though no official investigation, facts or elementary logic was needed. Bloggers drew conclusions and found the culprits reasoning from their political convictions and affiliations. Expectedly, the majority pointed their fingers at Putin. The Western media in ignorantly proclaimed Nemtsov as the key opponent to Putin and his main rival, as if he had as huge electoral support as Putin does.

Nemtsov’s rise came during the most dramatic period of Russia’s modern history - the 1990s, when the country was in complete devastation, chaos, increasingly criminal and highly unstable. During his political career, he was a governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, an effective governor with great potential for creativity and innovation. Citizens of the city are still thankful to him today. Nemtsovhad been elected several times for the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament, backed by liberal forces. Furthermore, he was also appointed as the first deputy prime minister, and after the dissolution of one government, he was reappointed for another one in the status of deputy prime minister for a short period of time, until the next government dissolution during the last years of the rule of Boris Yeltsin. He was even expected to become Yeltsin’s successor, but the choice fell on the candidature of Vladimir Putin. Although Nemtsov was a member of parliament and duma deputy speaker, his party failed in the Parliamentary elections and he found himself out of politics.

Typical Russian liberal

In his last years, Nemtsov was a typical Russian liberal opposition figure with a loud mouth, dramatic disclosures of the governing regime with little impact on public opinion, fighting for freedom and human rights for Russian citizens and had a strong friendship with the American embassy in Moscow. Most of his initiatives had a strong start because of his fearless attitude and eloquence skills but came to naught due to planning failures.

The nonsensical death of Boris Nemtsov is a tragedy for the whole of Russia’s political establishment, opposition and society

Maria Dubovikova

He posed no threat to the governing regime. His criticism was harmless and sometimes even useful. The reports he published (with little reliable proof in case of disclosures) could hardly make anyone tremble in the government.
International arena

Russia has great problems in the international arena and U.S.-Russia relations have reached the lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The sanctions imposed on Russia due to its foreign policy and ambitions have led to great pressure on its economy. The “blame Russia” campaign is still on the rise, generously fuelled by Western media. To assume that having over major electorate support, it was Putin who ordered the killing of his fading, harmless criticizer on the eve of the peaceful opposition march is to take Putin for an idiot. Wishful-thinking and hatred towards the Russian leader is playing an evil trick on the people, depriving them of common sense and logic in their analysis.

Political maneuvers

It comes as no surprise that the tragedy was followed by some political maneuvers and declarations by Western leaders. For example, during the hearing in Congress on Wednesday, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland announced that the U.S. would re-examine its so-called “Magnitsky Act” at the end of the year with regard for the results of the investigation of Nemtsov’s killing by that time. In practice that means that whatever the results are, it is most likely that Washington won’t accept them, and the list will expectedly be extended. Obama has prolonged sanctions against Russia despite the successful ceasefire in Ukraine. All pretexts are used by Western nations not to start a “reset” or détente. Moreover, some political forces and even politicians in Russia and abroad found it possible to speculate on his death and to use it in their own interests. This is mean, hypocritical and cynical.

The nonsensical death of Boris Nemtsov is a tragedy for the whole of Russia’s political establishment, opposition and society. By its impudence, the place and the time chosen, made it one of the loudest assassinations of the last 10 year and much like a terrorist act. It’s a shocking event that can hardly leave anyone indifferent. For 25 years, Nemtsov was an integral part of the Russian political landscape, however in the consciousness of most of the Russians, he remained a 1990s era associate of Boris Yeltsin.

Most of the Russian society at least mistrust those who are friends with the U.S. embassy and American politicians – a phenomenon that comes from history and resides already deep in Russia’s mentality. As controversial as he was, Nemtsov was a bright figure, but the same controversy prevented him from becoming a strong leader able to unite considerable masses.

Contract killings

Who is to blame for the murder of Boris Nemtsov? Contract killings are very hard to decipher. Nevertheless, the results of the official investigation are needed and should be waited for. For the government it’s a matter of principle to find those who killed him, especially experiencing the incredible external pressure. It should be said that the responsibility for creating the atmosphere and preconditions for this barbaric act is of many forces and figures. The atmosphere of hatred was created by some opposition wings who contemptuously humbled and humiliated those who support the president. The atmosphere of hatred was created by the pro-government forces, activists, government media and, in some way, by the government itself, who depicted the opposition as “the fifth column.” The responsibility belongs to Western Russophobia and Russophobe declarations that are spread through the media and the Internet.

The killing of Boris Nemtsov is harmful both for the government and the opposition. The shots in the back of Netmsov are shots in the back of Russian society, regardless of political views. Anatoly Chubais, Nemtsov’s close friend, was right in saying “Everyone. It is time to stop and to think for a moment about where we’re bringing Russia.’’


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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