This weekend Russians took to the streets to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of Russian well-known opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Questions have swirled about the potential involvement of the Chechen leadership in the crime — and over why the investigation appears to be stymied.

Participants of a march, which commemorate the first anniversary since the murder of opposition politician and public activist Boris Nemtsov. Photo: Sputnik

One year ago a prominent Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, was murdered in central Moscow, steps away from the Kremlin. As thousands of Russians take to streets to join a rally in memory on the first anniversary of Nemtsov’s murder, speculation and uncertainty continue to swirl around the incident. 

Some observers, including Nemtsov’s supporters and members of his family, have suggested that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov might somehow be behind the incident.

To be sure, no direct evidence has so far emerged tying Kadyrov to Nemtsov’s killing. And despite tensions and differences with Kadyrov, Nemtsov didn’t appear to pose a threat to the Chechen leader. The killing remains, to a large extent, a mystery.

For a very different take read: "Three possible scenarios for the murder of Boris Nemtsov"

But investigators’ very reluctance to vigorously pursue the possibility of involvement of senior Chechen officials such as Kadyrov raises troublesome questions, and creates legitimate cause for concern about a potential cover-up. Calls by associates of Nemtsov for Kadyrov to be investigated have essentially gone unanswered.

Putting aside the potential motives behind the Nemtsov murder, let us look at the evidence that suggests a thorough investigation of the Chechen angle is warranted, and pause to consider why such an investigation seems to have faultered. 

The confessed perpetrator of the crime is Zaur Dadaev, a former officer of Chechnya’s Battalion Sever, a paramilitary unit that is formally a part of Russia’s Interior Ministry. This means that, technically, Dadaev was a subordinate of Kadyrov. (However, it should be noted that, according to Russian press reports, Dadaev later retracted his confession, saying it had been made under duress.) 

The leadership of the Chechen Interior Ministry announced shortly before the murder that Dadaev had already resigned. But let us observe that this is a common move in Russia for law enforcement agencies when an officer commits a crime: The leadership announces immediately that they have already signed the officer’s resignation letter. 

Investigators claim the organizer of the crime was a low-level member of Batalion Sever, Ruslan Mukhudinov, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

However, according to a report in Russian daily RBK, citing unnamed sources, investigators twice attempted to file an indictment against Mukhudinov’s superior officer, Ruslan Geremeev, only to be stopped by the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastyrkin. 

Likewise, any attempts to detain Geremeev in the territory of Chechnya failed: Local law enforcement officers prevented the arrest. Under their protection, he went to his village, then left the territory of Russia.

Most importantly, from the beginning, investigators rejected the demands of Nemtsov’s relatives to interrogate Kadyrov himself. Instead, oddly enough, they questioned the governor of the Yaroslavl region, Sergey Yastrebov, because Nemtsov was a deputy of the local parliament in this region. Does the intransigence of investigators in refusing to thoroughly pursue the Chechen version of Nemtsov’s murder indicate the existence of an inconvenient truth? 

Also read: "What does the Nemtsov murder mean for Russia's political future?"

These events also give rise to yet another question: Why can’t Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself, spur an investigation of Kadyrov? 

First, Putin has an incentive to keep Kadyrov in power. He needs Kadyrov: If Maidan-style unrest ever starts in Moscow, Putin wants to be able to rely on Kadyrov’s military units. In addition, Putin is quite satisfied with the system, established by Kadyrov in Chechnya. He is well aware of the tensions between the Chechen leader and his neighbors. 

Second, for Putin, the resignation of Kadyrov would mean concession to public pressure to “punish” Kadyrov, which is unacceptable for the Russian president: He is probably afraid of such a precedent most.

Since the Kremlin is not going to “betray” Kadyrov, the Chechen version of the Nemtsov murder remains a sort of taboo for investigators. Kadyrov cannot be questioned either as a suspect or as a witness.  

All this creates the impression of an investigation that is far from complete, and of investigators facing a dead end.

Hopefully, sooner or later, someone will be able to confirm or deny the "Chechen version" of Nemtsov's murder by conducting a more thorough investigation.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.