There are two important places to look for the party or parties who murdered Boris Nemtsov – the militants with combat experience in eastern Ukraine and revenge-minded Chechen leaders.

The March 1 demonstration in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov brought together around 56,000, according to different estimates. Photo: RG

In analyzing the death of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, it is important to draw a line between the instigators and perpetrators of the murder and those who bear political responsibility for the crime. While it may have been partially responsible for the politically charged atmosphere in the nation’s capital, it seems clear that the Kremlin itself did not order the assassination.

Quite the opposite, Russia’s leaders appear to be genuinely shocked by what happened. No wonder the Moscow authorities quickly sanctioned a demonstration in memory of the deceased politician, fully aware that it would attract a far larger crowd than the previously planned opposition rally in Maryino, a district far away from the center of the city.

The Kremlin gave it the nod, since to ban a demonstration in memory of Nemtsov would have been tantamount to accepting responsibility for his death. To allow the opposition to demonstrate in not inconsiderable numbers (about 56,000 according to various sources) was clearly perceived as the “lesser evil.” Nemtsov alive posed no threat to the present government, even taking into account the Kremlin’s paranoia on that score. A murdered Nemtsov, on the other hand, is a symbol of unity for the liberal anti-Kremlin forces.

In that respect, the situation is reminiscent of the murder of Galina Starovoitova [a Russian politician and ethnographer known for her work to protect ethnic minorities and promote democratic reforms in Russia] in 1998.

Like Nemtsov, Starovoitova had no chance of becoming a leader of any powerful liberal-democratic movement. She was generally believed to belong to a bygone era. However, her murder gave impetus to the neoliberal wing of Russian politics, and contributed to the success of the Union of Right Forces in the 1999 State Duma elections.

Likewise, it is more than probable that Nemtsov’s murder will boost the liberal anti-Kremlin camp. It can be assumed that the Kremlin understood that fact only too well, and therefore had no intention of embarking on such a reckless scheme under any circumstances.

Another matter is the politics behind it. Whoever killed Nemtsov was essentially given free rein by the song-and-dance that has reigned supreme on Russian TV screens for the past year or more.The constant “unmasking” and defamation of the “fifth column” and “national traitors” (Putin's own words) created an atmosphere in which any crime against opponents of the regime is justified.

Strelkov and the supporters of “Novorossiya”

And naive it would certainly have been not to suppose that the salvos of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine would eventually ring out in the Russian capital. If the “Ukrainian fascists” can be killed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, why not kill their supporters in Moscow?

The war in the east of Ukraine began with the actions of subversive groups, like the one headed by Igor Girkin (“Strelkov”), which in April last year seized Slavyansk and, with the murder of Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Rybak, pushed the confrontation headlong into an armed conflict. It is unlikely that anyone in the Kremlin gave these groups the order to kill supporters of the Kiev authorities. No such orders were required, since they were ready to do it by themselves.

Neither was there any need to order the “Strelkovs” of this world to take out Nemtsov. On the contrary, they themselves are not averse to transposing the war in Ukraine to Russia, especially since they have been muscled out of Ukraine and, judging by the lengthy interviews and statements delivered by none other than Strelkov himself, are itching for more.

It is entirely possible that, just as Rybak’s murder on April 23, 2014, made war inevitable in the southeast of Ukraine, Nemtsov’s murder on Feb. 27, 2014, was intended to unleash an armed conflict in Russia. Such calculation is perhaps erroneous, but only from the perspective of a peaceful person. For a vampire thirsty for human blood, it is a logical step.

Therefore, if the Investigative Committee were doing its job properly, it would certainly be worth it to check the whereabouts and phone calls of Strelkov and his inner circle on the nights of Feb. 27-28. Of course, it might not be the work of Strelkov and friends, but that is where the first line of inquiry should be directed.

I think that, in this of all cases, the investigating authorities will not stand on ceremony. The government has long (and rightly) viewed the “returnees” from “Novorossiya” (eastern Ukraine) as posing a grave danger, and will jump at the opportunity to keep them at arm's length. In my view, this applies also to Strelkov himself, whose loose tongue has long irritated his former patrons in the Kremlin.

Revenge-minded Chechen leaders

The second line of inquiry points to Chechnya. There is only one politician in Russia who is effectively allowed to remove his enemies in the center of Moscow — the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. In November 2006 a group controlled by the Chechen Interior Ministry shot dead the former bodyguard of Akhmad Kadyrov (father of Ramzan), FSB colonel Movladi Baysarov. 

A criminal investigation into the murder was closed and the actions of the Chechen Interior Ministry recognized as lawful. Shortly before that, Baysarov had fallen out with Ramzan Kadyrov, and no one has any doubt that this quarrel was the reason for his sudden demise.

In September 2008 former State Duma MP Ruslan Yamadayev, whom Kadyrov (apparently not without reason) suspected of having organized the murder of his father in May 2003, was killed near the Russian White House. Three people were convicted, but no one identified the paymasters.

It is almost a certainty that, if the murder of Nemtsov is traced to Chechnya, the case will be, if not closed - then at least filed.Kadyrov has carte blanche, and if he has decided that “traitors” such as Nemtsov have no right to exist, their days are numbered. He may be given a slap on the wrist by the Kremlin, but not too hard. No one is going to pick a fight with this version of Frankenstein’s monster that the Kremlin itself pieced together.

However, the main counterargument against Kadyrov’s involvement in the murder is that the killer(s) used cartridges not specifically designed for their chosen weapon. A Chechen “envoy” would have dispatched his victim with a service pistol and quietly returned home to the Caucasus.

The “sacrificial lamb” theory and more

Other versions of events do not stand up to serious criticism.

The “business hit” theory can be ruled out on the grounds that Nemtsov was not a businessman, and in any case never dabbled in those areas of business that necessitate the elimination of competitors or rivals.

The domestic version, i.e. jealousy, is plainly ridiculous, because such murders are mostly solitary acts and the perpetrators, as a rule, do not and cannot evade the police.

The Islamist version, according to which Nemtsov was killed because of his stance on Charlie Hebdo, is highly dubious, since it fails to address a simple question: Why Nemtsov in particular?

Lastly, the finger-pointing at Kiev, the West and Nemtsov’s own supporters — basically anyone who might need a “sacrificial lamb” to kindle an Orange revolution in Russia — looks plausible only in the eyes of the murderers themselves and their adherents.

For those who consider it a truly savage crime, the latter version is exactly what it should be in the eyes of a normal person — inflamed gibberish from the mouths of people who see enemies in the woodwork and have assumed the right to “defend themselves” by any means necessary.

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