Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing a political crisis within Russia, after one of his most vocal opponents, Boris Nemstov, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on a Moscow bridge not far from the Kremlin Friday night. The assassination took place two days before Nemstov was set to lead a massive anti-Putin demonstration protesting the war in Ukraine — a conflict for which Yemstov believed Putin was directly responsible.
“If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,” the 55-year-old Nemstov, who served as Russia’s deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, wrote in his final Twitter message.
Nemstov took an immediate aversion to Russia’s next president, Vladimir Putin, and has been an opposition leader ever since, saying of Putin, “I couldn’t dislike him more,” and holding the Russian leader personally responsible for the war in Ukraine between the government there and pro-Russian rebels.
Putin has claimed that Russia has no control over and no connection to the rebels, whom he says are simply “volunteers.” But their war against the Ukraine government has killed more than 5,800 people in less than a year, including thousands of civilians.
Nemstov was reportedly walking on the Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge accompanied by an unidentified woman, when “several people” jumped out of a passing white car and fired at Nemstov at least seven times, shooting him in the back and killing him.
The shooters then piled back in the car and sped away.
As recently as two weeks ago, Nemstov publicly worried that Putin was plotting to have him assassinated, stating flatly in a newspaper op-ed piece, “I’m afraid Putin will kill me.”
“Boris Nemtsov was a stark opposition leader who criticized the most important state officials in our country, including President Vladimir Putin,” said another top Russian opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, on Saturday. “As we have seen, such criticism in Russia is dangerous for one’s life.”
Putin scrambled to deflect suspicions that he was behind the murder of Yemstov, saying that he would personally supervise the investigation into his longtime foe’s brazen killing.
At the same time, Putin publicly declared the assassination of Boris Yemstov a “provocation,” presumably carried out by his own opponents to pin the blame on Putin.
According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Putin said, “this cruel murder has every sign of being a contract one which has solely provocative nature.”
Boris Nemstov, in addition to attacking Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine conflict, also investigated corruption in Putin’s government, authoring several reports about the sums of money allegedly skimmed by Putin and his cronies from funds designated for the Sochi Winter Olympics last year.
[Putin Image: Carsten Koall/Getty Images; Nemstov Image: Boris Nemstov Facebook]