The killing of the 55 year-old former Russian deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov on February 27 has raised concern for the nature of democratic freedoms in Russia among Nemtsov’s allies. The deceased was also a physicist and a liberal politician who played an integral role in the introduction of capitalism into Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 2000, Nemtsov has been a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration. In 2010, for example, Nemtsov and other opposition leaders were arrested for participating in a rally against government restrictions on public protests.
Nemtsov’s death took place on a bridge in a monitored area near the Kremlin where he was shot five times in the back. His girlfriend, who was walking with him at the time, was unharmed and is currently under protection in Ukraine. Associates of Nemtsov cite the long response time for authorities to arrive at the relevant crime scene as grounds for suspicion of foul play.
Having called Nemtsov’s death a shameful tragedy, Putin has advocated for a thorough investigation into Nemtsov’s murder. Two suspects, Anzor Kubashev and Zaur Dadayev, have been detained for their suspected involvement in Nemtsov’s death. Russian state media has reported that the two men were ethnic Chechens from the Caucasus, which is a region with economic troubles. Investigations by authorities in the high-profile assassinations in the past, however, have revealed that hitmen are often hired from the Caucasus. Russian authorities have released several theories pertaining to the motives for the murder. One theory from authorities connects Islamic extremism and Nemtsov’s condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, making retribution a possible motive for the two detainees. In contrast, the Russian opposition community claims Nemtsov’s political activities and their consequent friction with the government as a reason for the assassination.
Prior to his death, Nemtsov is reported to have been close to releasing the details of an investigation of the Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine. Nemtsov was also an organizer for a demonstration march for fair elections and the end of involvement with Ukraine and its current crisis. Popular opinion in the liberal opposition is that Nemtsov’s death was beneficial to the Kremlin. In honor of Nemtsov’s death, thousands of Russians have participated in a protest march in central Moscow. Despite the high turnout, support for Putin remains at a record high; Putin has an approval rating of 86 percent. The investigation into Boris Nemtsov’s death is in its infancy and ongoing.