Moscow murder: plot or not

“Every time I call (my mother),” said Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov recently, “she gives me a talking-to: ‘When will you stop being rude about Putin? He’ll kill you.’”

“Every time I call (my mother),” said Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov recently, “she gives me a talking-to: ‘When will you stop being rude about Putin? He’ll kill you.’”

Now Nemtsov is dead: four bullets in the back as he was walking home in Moscow with his girlfriend on Friday night. The protest march against Putin and the war in Ukraine that he was planning to lead on Sunday became a memorial march instead.

So, two questions. Did President Vladimir Putin order the assassination? And if he didn’t, then who did, and why?

The hit was carried out with professional skill only three minutes’ walk from Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, in an area that is infested day and night by militia (police) on constant alert to break up demonstrations.

You could put together a feature-length film with the footage from the countless CCTV cameras that tracked Nemtsov’s walk across the square and down to the bridge where he died.

It took accurate intelligence to know where Nemtsov would be on Friday night, and serious organization and planning to carry out the killing in such a heavily policed area. That points to members of the military or security forces, though not necessarily to ones who were acting on official orders. Because the first thing to say about this murder is that it did not serve Putin’s purposes.

No doubt the Russian president despised Nemtsov, but neither he nor any other opposition leader posed any threat to Putin’s power.

Thanks in large part to his seizure of Crimea and his military intervention in eastern Ukraine, Putin is currently enjoying an 85 per cent approval rating with the Russian public.

Why risk upsetting this happy relationship with the first public killing of a senior political figure in more than a decade?

It’s much more likely that the killing was carried out by serving or former soldiers or intelligence officers who took it upon themselves to eliminate an “anti-patriotic” politician who condemned “Putin’s War” in Ukraine.

In the superheated atmosphere of nationalist paranoia that currently prevails in Russia, such people could easily imagine that they were doing just what Putin secretly wanted.

As for the rest of the world (or at least the “western” part of the world), it has already written Putin off as a man you can do business with. The Russian leader is, in many Westerners’ eyes, an expansionist warlord who can only be contained by sanctions and threats. It may even take a new Cold War to stop him.

Paranoia, alas, is a communicable disease.

The Western narrative that seeks to explain how, in less than a year, we have arrived at a point where the United States is contemplating supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine to kill Russian troops, has several large gaps.

The first is that the revolution on the Maidan in Kiev last winter overthrew a legitimately elected Ukrainian president only a year before the next elections were due.

Putin initially accepted that outcome (with the elections moved up to only one month in the future), which was brokered by the European Union.

In other words, he accepted the illegal overthrow of the pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych, so long as free elections followed rapidly.

Quite possibly because he thought Yanukovych’s supporters in the east might boost him back into the presidency again.

That same thought may also be why the revolutionaries in Kiev broke the deal and insisted on Yanukovych’s immediate removal from power. It was only then that Putin concluded that he was faced with a Western plot to whisk Ukraine into NATO and create a strategic and political threat on Russia’s southern frontier.

There was no such plot: NATO has not the slightest desire to assume responsibility for the defence of Ukraine. But there was a great deal of open Western rejoicing at Russia’s discomfiture, and Putin lost his customary cool and responded with the annexation of Crimea and then the encouragement of pro-Russian rebels in southeastern Ukraine.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton. “All great men are bad.”

In that sense, Putin is a bad man, and more dangerous for being both paranoid and increasingly isolated. (His circle of advisers has dwindled to a handful of hawks.)

But he is not planning to conquer even Ukraine, let alone the rest of the former Soviet empire, and he almost certainly did not order Nemtsov’s death.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

WATCH: More than 100 protest UN migration pact, carbon tax in Red Deer

Chants of “Trudeau must go” echoed through the streets of downtown Red… Continue reading

Canadian home sales fall for a 3rd month; new listings also down: CREA

OTTAWA — Home sales across the country fell for a third month… Continue reading

Speaker at rally says Alberta oil ‘puts tofu on the table in Toronto!’

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — A rally in support of Alberta’s oil industry… Continue reading

‘Are we going to play?’ Alberta boy with rare illness no big deal for classmates

ONOWAY, Alta. — Four-year-old Porter Stanley has some new pals at preschool.… Continue reading

Green light for class action over ‘mesmerizing’ video lottery terminals

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — An intriguing court case that alleges Crown-owned video… Continue reading

Speaker at rally says Alberta oil ‘puts tofu on the table in Toronto!’

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — A rally in support of Alberta’s oil industry… Continue reading

Man who demolished landmark house ordered to build replica

SAN FRANCISCO — A man who illegally demolished a San Francisco house… Continue reading

Giuliani: ‘Over my dead body’ will Mueller interview Trump

WASHINGTON — With a number of probes moving closer to the Oval… Continue reading

Quebecers criticize western oil but buying more gasoline, SUVs, bigger homes: report

MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier is quick to reject “dirty” oil from Western… Continue reading

Speaker Geoff Regan opens the door to his apartment in Parliament

OTTAWA — One of the best-kept secrets inside the main building on… Continue reading

Baloo the cat is back at home after being mistakenly shipped to Montreal

HALIFAX — Much to the relief of his loving family, Baloo the… Continue reading

‘It’s what we do’: Famous Newfoundlanders help replace veteran’s stolen guitar

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Two famous Newfoundlanders stepped in to help an… Continue reading

Quebec’s anti-corruption unit blames media coverage for recruiting troubles

MONTREAL — Seven years after it was created, Quebec’s anti-corruption unit is… Continue reading

Former PQ cabinet minister poised to become next Bloc Quebecois leader

MONTREAL — It appears likely that Yves-Francois Blanchet, a former Parti Quebecois… Continue reading

Most Read