The murder of Russia’s opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan in Ukraine triggered extensive commentary and reflection in the Russian media.
Participants in the march staged to mourn politician Boris Nemtsov, who was killed in downtown Moscow on February 28, 2015. The captions on the posters portraying Nemtsov reads: "Heroes don't die," "These bullets — to each of us." Photo: RIA Novosti
This weekend Russian media were in despair over the murder of Russia’s opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. In addition, this week, the Russian media discussed the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan in Ukraine and the anti-Maidan march in Moscow.
The murder of Boris Nemtsov
This week prominent Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in central Moscow. Russian media responded immediately. Mostly, Russian journalists and experts were unanimous in assessing the implications of the horrific incident. The event, they say, resulted in a tremendous loss for Russian politics and the country’s democratic movement.
However, the question about the perpetrators of the crime divided Russia’s media community, as they attempted to assess who is behind the murder. While some media – including Slon, Novaya Gazeta and Vedomosti — argue that Russian President Vladimir Putin is to blame, their counterparts from Echo of Moscow, Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Aktualnii Komentarii suggest that those accused of killing Nemtsov should be found not in the Kremlin, but elsewhere.
Kirill Martynov, a blogger at Echo of Moscow, sees the murder of Nemtsov as “the biggest act of political terror in the history of modern Russia.” This act, he says, is doomed to symbolize the country that “we have built for the last 15 years, the country where words are against bullets and blood." According to Martynov, the Nemtsov murder marks “the point of no return and the radical destabilization of Russia’s domestic policy,” meaning that its implications are impossible to predict.
Dmitry Kamyshev of the business daily Vedomosti argues that Nemtsov had many enemies who were ready to use guns as an argument in ideological debates. He sees the tragic death of the opposition leader as “the final murder of that Russia which could have been born after the collapse of the Soviet Union but wasn’t.”
“And now, probably, it will never be born,” he predicts gloomily.
Meanwhile, Alexander Baunov, another blogger for Echo of Moscow, believes that Russia has seen one more example of the degradation of its authoritarianism, which started “shifting from the pragmatic dictatorship of development to the ideological dictatorship of self-survival.”
At the same time, Baunov puts into question the version that Nemtsov’s murder was orchestrated by Putin, who is hardly likely to be the winner in the whole story. The problem is the Russian authorities have lost “the monopoly on violence,” which means that the perpetrators might be the frenetic opponents of the opposition.
Mikhail Fushman, a contributor for Slon, speculates about the increasing threat of state terror. According to him, “the killing of Nemtsov has instantly plunged us into despair and horror, because horror and despair are coded with his murder… This is how political terror works: Nemtsov is killed and we are afraid of what will happen with Russia and with us.”
Meanwhile, Aktualnii Komentarii gives the voice to Valery Solovey, an expert who assumes that the Kremlin is not interested in the death of the opposition leader. At the same time, he adds that the murder can bring about a wave of violence in the country, because Nemtsov was “a symbolic figure” and “his killing means that the important taboo is cancelled” – “the taboo on violence and killing of political opponents.”
Rossiyskaya Gazeta presents the opinions of Russia’s politicians (such as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov) who offer conspiracy theories while claiming that the murder had been planned abroad.
One-year anniversary of the Euromaidan
The one-year anniversary of events that occurred on Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) was actively discussed in the Russian media. Most media outlets tried clearly to analyze the causes and consequences of the protest movement, as well as to assess what Euromaidan has resulted in for Ukraine. In addition, the business publication Kommersant looked at the situation from an economic perspective, noting the ever-growing financial problems in Ukraine.
Most publications agree that Euromaidan plunged the country into deep crisis (pro-government Aktualnyie Kommentarii and Rossiyskaya Gazeta). However, others (the opposition Echo of Moscow and the business publication Vedomosti) expressed moderate optimism, noting that all is not lost for the people of Ukraine.
In fact, some say, there might even be a positive effect. Pavel Aptekar, writing for the business newspaper Vedomosti, believes that, although Ukraine has not solved its many problems with this coup d’état, this country has experienced what he calls “revolutionary dignity.”
“People started to believe that they could become political actors, and influence the government,” writes Aptekar. “A great many civic activists have now entered the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), and these have no intention of complying with the old rules of the game.”
Aptekar cites a survey indicating that 59.1 percent of Ukrainians believe that they can change the work of the Ukrainian Parliament and that “the first steps have been made.” For example, the Verkhovna Rada has adopted anti-corruption laws, as well as amendments to rules on confiscation of property of corrupt officials and the unmasking of all those who were involved in corrupt transactions.
“Anti-corruption structures will be formed that will operate under public control,” writes Aptekar. “Ukraine rallied to the idea of independence and a decent life.”
Among those who believe that Ukraine still has a chance of getting through this difficult situation is Dmitry Galko, a blogger for Echo of Moscow. In talking about his recent visit to Kiev, he noted his observations that “Ukrainians will still have to struggle for the choice they made a year ago.”
“They have more than once been able to disprove the worst expectations of others,” continues Galko. “I have a feeling that they will prove themselves yet again.”
Meanwhile, Maxim Yushin, a columnist for the business newspaper Kommersant, offers a look at the economic implications of Euromaidan one year after the protest. He points to the gradual depreciation of the hryvnia, rising inflation and a lack of resources to carry out any reforms.
Yushin believes that, in conditions of military operations, nothing can be fixed, so the war in Donbas must be ended as soon as possible.
“Ukraine cannot fight a war and at the same time carry out reforms that her European partners demand from her,” he writes. “All are tired of the war – Europe and Moscow, Donetsk and Luhansk. And how about Kiev? The war has had a devastating effect on the Ukrainian economy, which we are following with horror and sympathy day after day.”
Vladislav Vorobyov devoted a lengthy article to the Euromaidan anniversary in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, noting that people who took to the streets back then wanted a better life, but their dreams have not materialized.
“During the past year, so many extraordinary events have occurred in Ukraine,”Vorobyov considers. “But the real work – to save the country from bankruptcy, and people from certain poverty, was never done, and is not being done.”
Political analyst Mikhail Remizov, writing for Aktualnyie Kommentarii, believes that the revolution and its consequences have hit Ukraine hard.
“The revolution was made; however, it did not turn into a fertile ground for national success, because the slogans under which it was carried out were demoralizing,” he said. “As compensation, it has had a strong effect on the national anti-Russia, anti-Russian consolidation, significant for Ukrainian nationalist-prone parts of society. However, this is rather just psychological compensation for the lack of national success at this stage.”
The controversy surrounding anti-Maidan
The anti-Maidan march in Moscow by opponents of the Euromaidan that gathered in Kiev last year caused tremendous debate in the Russian press. Opposition media (Slon, Echo of Moscow, and Novaya Gazeta) consider this a marginal movement, believing that this is a very bad sign for Russian society.
Pro-government opinions diverged: Aktualnyie Kommentarii believes that this movement is ineffective, while Rossiyskaya Gazeta stresses the importance of the anti-Maidan for rallying the population.
Tatiana Stanovaya, writing for the online publication Slon, looks at the anti-Maidan movement in the context of other social movements that have been given impetus by the Kremlin, such as Nashi (Ours) and Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guards). Ms. Stanovoya notes that in its current format, this is rather more marginal and explosive: “Anti-Maidan – these are the “marginal against the marginalized,” she writes, comparing it with the Kremlin’s other political technology movement Nashi. And yet, she warns, anti-Maidan is a more aggressive, “conceptually new and very dangerous movement for Russian society.”
The politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, in his blog on the Echo of Moscow website, also speaks about marginalization and the degradation of Russian society.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented triumph of Kremlin propaganda,” he writes. “This mass action by the anti-Maidan movement in Moscow, and other cities of the country, was held in a purely Orwellian spirit – a movement of Afghan veterans and retired officers, recruiting volunteers in the Donbas, as well as journalists and politicians, every day inciting hate against Ukraine and the West.”
Andrei Kolesnikov, writing for the newspaper Vedomosti, has stated that the anti-Maidan is a systemic response to any manifestation of opposition in Russian society, and what is more, the answer is “militarized,” comparing participants of this movement with the “political oprichniki,” whose task is to “crush any opposition on the street.”
Meanwhile, Vitaly Petrov, writing for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, stresses how peaceful these demonstrations were, how so many people participated in them, and what a positive message they were trying to convey.
“They all came to make a powerful statement against what the current Kiev authorities are doing in their own country,” says Petrov. “At the same time, the people expressed their position peacefully; the march was carried out quietly and in an orderly manner.”
Aktualnyie Kommentarii let expert Igor Ryabov weigh in on the matter. He noted that, “In spite of the specified benefits, the ‘tents’ of the anti-Maidan perform the same destructive role as the Maidan itself.” In his view, the anti-Maidan manifests a certain level of political threat, saying that social conflict exists, “behind whose screen you can do what you want.”
"Maidan as a threat can unite people, but an opposition to it cannot become an ideology for the development of a country,” warns the expert.