Tens of thousands demonstrated in Moscow and other cities around Russia today against the murder of Boris Nemtsov on Friday night. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was a prominent critic of president Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. He had been due to lead today’s demonstration in Moscow against the war, marking a year since Russia annexed Crimea.
Just hours before he was killed Nemtsov gave a radio interview where he described how Russian special forces had seized the parliament building of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on 27 February 2014. He called for an end to Russian aggression against Ukraine and for a “political transformation” in Russia, with fair elections and an end to censorship.
Nemtsov was a controversial figure. He was sacked as deputy prime minister after the Russian financial crash in 1998. That crash was in part precipitated by neoliberal policies of drastic cuts imposed by Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais. Known as “shock therapy”, these caused untold suffering for millions of Russians – while enabling a small group of oligarchs to seize large sections of the Russian economy. But Nemtsov also opposed Russia’s wars in Chechnya and now Ukraine – which earned him the enmity of Putin.
Here is a statement released in Nemtsov’s murder published yesterday by the Russian socialist website openleft.ru
While it’s still too early to say exactly how, there is no doubt that the murder of Boris changes the situation in Russia. This act of terror, whoever committed it, is directly linked to the unbridled chauvinist propaganda which has accompanied the aggressive foreign policy of the Kremlin for several years now. One of the major motifs of this propaganda, since the moment of Putin’s Crimean Speech, has been the attempt to rally the nation in hatred of the “fifth column”, of “national traitors”, in the face of its tribulations. The “internal enemy” has not been anonymous: it has had several faces, constantly looking out from the billboards of shame, and several names, constantly repeated on television. One of these enemies was Boris Nemtsov. On the eve of his death, the channel NTV was preparing the latest muck-raking “investigation” into the “Russian Maidan”, in which yet again Boris Nemtsov would be a key protagonist.
It’s true that Boris Nemtsov was one of the leading figures in the Yeltsin elite in the later 1990s, and bears full responsibility (alongside Putin, for example), for the social catastrophe and political crimes of that period. His views could be defined as right-wing liberal, and his geopolitical orientation as pro-American. As we know, similar views do not stop many others from holding senior positions in the Russian government or in large corporations. However, an unspoken rule bans any public criticism of the actions of the Kremlin in Ukraine, any open protest against the presence of Russian troops on the territory of another country. It was precisely this rule that Boris Nemtsov consistently broke: it was this that placed him at the top of the list of key “internal enemies”, and this was the real reason for his murder.
Of course, the murder of Nemtsov was unpleasant surprise for the federal authorities, continuing to use all their powers to keep up an illusion of stability and internal order within the country. The murder could have been ordered and carried out by certain circles from among the security services (“siloviki“) with an interest in generating further tension, or from independent groups which had benefited from backing from high-up among the “anti-Maidan”, from veterans returning from Eastern Ukraine (“Novorossia”), or from fighters backed by Ramzan Kadyrov (the pro-Putin President of Chechnya). Whoever it was, what happens next will depend on how society responds. The decision of liberal leaders to move the march from Maryino (in the suburbs of Moscow) into the centre of the city, to the site of the murder of Nemtsov, is entirely correct. After what happened on that night, the state of affairs has changed in the country, and the murder has become the key political question of the moment.
As we take to the streets, we need to demand the following:
- an independent and transparent investigation into the murder of Boris Nemtsov
- an immediate end to aggressive media propaganda, promoting hatred within the country
- real and unconditional freedom of speech and assembly
- an end to the military intervention in Ukraine
- the development of a programme to deal with the crisis, oriented on helping people, and not banks and oil corporations.
Translated from Russian by Nick Evans