By: Joaquin Flores
Headlines around the world have carried some variation of the story: the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Each of these includes some retelling of the pertinent facts: what, who, where, how … but the real question is ‘why’. The answer to this question, or rather, what the west insists is the answer, will tell us a lot about the US’s plans to escalate the tensions in Russia over Ukraine, and beyond.
It would be foolish to set aside any hypothesis about this being motivated by people close to him, in the realm of business, politics, or romance. In anything related to business dealings, we might recall that any number of people probably want him dead after his criminality and corruption while serving as director of the now liquidated Neftyanoi Bank, and as chairman of its parent company Neftyanoi Concern.
Much controversy surrounded this back in 2006. Of course in the realm of romantic problems, we have significantly those surrounding the woman he was last seen with. This woman, Anna Duritskaya, was also present during the shooting. Rumors are floating around that this could do with her recent abortion and surrounding points of melodrama.
An obvious link in general with this case is to the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, but in one variation, this killing may have been motivated by an internal dispute between those pro-US factions there: Nemtsov was connected with the US backed Orange Revolution and Victor Yuschenko, was appointed as an economic advisor then, but left under suspicious circumstances and more enemies than friends.
Among any of these could very well be the motive of the killer or those behind him, but the timing of this shooting and other pertinent facts should lead us to consider that this was politically motivated.
These plots can actually be somewhat complex, it is often the case that two birds are killed with one stone. A personal rival can be given a green light settle a score, and also accomplish something of larger geostrategic significance such as this.
But to the point, here we are looking at whether this was carried out on the orders of one of the major involved players in the present world turmoil. Concretely, the question is whether this was carried about the Russians and its friends, or by the US and its friends.
Whether the actual shooting was done by contract or not, is also not very important except when looking at forensics of the crime scene, and the immediate circumstances themselves. These might tell us certain things, except that in cases such as this we must always be mindful that looking like an unprofessional job – such as in this case – would be something a professional would do to throw the scent.
For example, we are likely to hear from friends of Russia that this killing does not have the telltale signs of a professional type of hit, the sort a government would carry out. They will point out, of course, that Boris Nemtsov would have died in a car crash, or from a heart attack. It is considered far too sloppy for anyone in the Kremlin to think of shooting him in public, with witnesses.
This is not too compelling, because such clean methods would actually seem to implicate the Russian state, whereas the rather sloppy way Nemtsov was actually killed even compels us to rule this out. If a hit were to be carried out of this sort, then it would make perfect sense of the state to use an amateur method. Because anything is possible, it is not entirely useful to follow this line of reasoning with one exception: if the US was behind this, that it was a murder would have to be obvious, with no doubts.
This is because if the Russians wanted him dead, the value of killing him would be in his absence. If the Americans killed him, the value is in the spectacle of the killing itself. This killing is loaded with spectacle.
While one can argue that Russia could have employed someone to use sloppy methods in order to throw the scent, it is more likely that given the method, that the US is behind it. This could have been arranged through Ukrainian assets, and would not involve actual US agents on the ground in Moscow.
This was very obviously a murder which was wanted to be known as a murder. This does not fit into either a Russian motive or modus operandi.
What complicates things, however, is when we ask the real questions.
The first question to ask is ‘cui bono’, in this case we know that Russia, in particular Putin, has nothing to gain. The killing of Nemtsov under any of the circumstances does not make any sense from the view of Russian interest. Politically he did not pose a real threat, alive. With less than 5%, his ticket and the Republican Party failed to garner enough support to be sat in the Duma. With approval ratings above 85%, Putin is not in the position to need to resort to these kinds of tactics.
Russia is also at a different juncture politically, where such methods are not likely to be necessary even if there was an opposition figure to be concerned about. Every other form of virtual-media assassination is possible, that actual ones are not necessary. There are also other methods to delegitimize these characters which invariably revolve around their business dealings, underage girls, and so forth.
These other methods are much cleaner, as assassinations make a government look more desperate, create an unnecessary martyr out of a marginal character, and give fuel to other opposition at home and abroad.
While he held an important position in the 1990’s under Yeltsin as First Deputy Prime Minister for about a year until 1998, his political career since the early 00’s has been of little significance and has not inspired mass support.
It is the US that has the most to gain from this. Western press has painted him for years as the likely person to replace Putin in a serious change of political stability in Russia. This follows a western narrative, where western liberal values are superimposed as natural and universal values around the world.
While Nemtsov was one of the US’s favorites, he is not a favorite with the Russian people. The actual ‘runner up’ party in Russia, which is projected to surpass Putin’s ruling party in the event of a serious change, is the Communist Party of Zyuganov. But this narrative cuts against western interests, and is at odds with the west’s narratives about the Cold War and its results.
That western press and the leadership of the US and Ukraine are exploiting this is another clue that they had a hand in it.
These statements from NATO and foreign governments are outrageous, but not surprising, because they imply that the Russian government is behind them. Why would the murder be ‘condemned’? Besides that all murders are condemned, generally, by the societies in which they occur (hence there are laws against them), why would this particular murder be ‘condemned’ politically without knowing if there was a political motive at all?
As we know, on March 1st, tomorrow, there will be another attempt by the pro-US forces and their liberal allies to launch a Russian “Spring”, also called the ‘Anti-Crisis March’. With this fresh murder just 36 hours before the March, we might expect to see the martyrdom of Nemtsov highlighted.
Just ten days ago, Alexei Navalny another western backed figure, was arrested for trying to organize for the march, which backers hope will attract as many as 100,000 against Putin.
When Putin was last elected, the same group organized a similar march. The loyal opposition Communists joined this march, and drowned the liberal banners with communist ones.
This was an excellent test run and message sent to US handlers, that Russia is ready with its own loyal opposition to frustrate and redirect the aims of any 5th column efforts on the part of the US.
Likewise, on the propaganda front, the patriotic scene has co-opted the term ‘Russian Spring’ to mean the opposite of what the US has branded it in places like Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Now it means a movement to push back the US’s hegemonic schemes, including its use of the Color/Spring tactic.
The biggest concern now for this Sunday’s march is not the turnout, or how it will be spun in the west. The problem on the propaganda side of this action so far is that it is quite useless and incomplete.
Russia’s present political stability and the popularity of Putin is not in the hands of western media. This represents a monumental change from the last days of old media during the collapse of the USSR, when BBC and CNN presented the spectacle of objective and neutral reporting.
For Russian audiences, and Russian media, this investigation will follow the form of a standard murder investigation. Given the status of the victim and the political implications, it will be given significant coverage. Eventually investigators will make an arrest, and some story will be told. The story may or may not be true, but by and large it will be accepted.
Russians are not losing sleep over this murder, and the outcome of the investigation is not related in any way to their general support for the present government and its policies. Russians have other things to do, places to go, work to get done, and lives to live. Most didn’t like him, and only see it as a tragedy, perhaps even a US plot. Those who like him will blame the state, as they hold the state and Putin responsible for much of everything else. All of this is true also of Sunday’s planned march.
For western audiences, Russia is already now a totalitarian regime in which opposition is silenced, and its leaders imprisoned and killed in cold blood. This is already the narrative which requires no further reiteration. Putin is Hitler. Appeasement will not work. This is already the line.
All of this means that we haven’t heard the end of this yet. It is difficult to see how increased sanctions can be pulled out of this murder, but if there are, that should be no surprise. Past sanctions were based on less. Still, Europe has grown wary of sanctions and any further sanctions are likely to be symbolic, as were the last round.
The biggest concern now is if there are more killings planned for Sunday. The US seems to be going ahead with all of its plans even if the necessary successes at each step before are not met. We have seen this in Syria and Ukraine.
In such an event, it is obvious how the US will spin this, and the call will begin openly for Putin to step down. While this last part may be an eventuality at any rate, the events tomorrow will tell us whether we should expect a serious escalation in this process.
Joaquin Flores is an American expat living in Belgrade. He is a full-time analyst at the Center for Syncretic Studies, a public geostrategic think-tank. His expertise encompasses Eastern Europe and Eurasia