The unfortunate murder of Russia’s prominent opposition figure and vocal critic of the Kremlin brings about a lot of conspiracy theories.
People lay flowers at a murder scene of politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on Moscow's Moskvoretsky bridge in the early hours of February 28, 2015. Photo: RIA Novosti
Opposition leader and former Russian first deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, 55, has died after being shot in central Moscow late Friday night. According to Russia’s Investigative Committee, Nemtsov was walking along the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin a little after 11 p.m. when a white car pulled alongside him and fired a number of shots at point-blank range, hitting him in the back.
The tragic murder of Nemtsov is only hours old and already the conspiracy theories abound. Due to the fact that Nemtsov was a member of the opposition, speculation immediately follows that Russian President Vladimir Putin is somehow involved.
Further, within hours of the murder, Putin vowed to personally oversee the investigation. Historians and scholars of Russian politics have been quick to claim that the situation reminds them of the 1940 murder of Leon Trotsky, a Marxist revolutionary, the founder and first leader of the Red Army, in Mexico City.
Conspiracy theorists in the other direction would come back and argue that the opposition was responsible. They would argue that the West is interested in destabilizing the Putin regime and creating a new Maidan revolution in Moscow. The easiest way to achieve this is to provide a single spark that can set off a powder keg that will lead to massive revolt.
Thus, they could point to Nemtsov's murder as providing that necessary spark that will lead to regime change in Russia. Already the opposition is readying a massive protest for central Moscow. Just as violence in the Maidan set forth a chain of events that led to regime change in Ukraine, so too could violence at such a protest lead to a new Russian revolution.
Пять утра. На месте гибели pic.twitter.com/tVmWZGMX71
— Vsevolod Chagaev (@SevaChagaev) February 28, 2015
5 in the morning. At the place of the murder.
The problem with the conspiracy theories is that none of them make any logical sense. For example, Putin has over 80 percent approval rating. Despite the fact that Nemtsov was in the opposition, was he really a threat to Putin?
The sad fact is that Nemtsov is more a threat to Putin dead than he was when he was alive. People will now remember the young and charismatic leader who vaulted out of Nizhniy Novgorod in the early 1990s to institute political and economic change in Russia.
There was still a period of euphoria among Russians about good relations with the United States and a new era of change and democracy in Russia. People were willing to follow him and were excited about the changes that were taking place at such tremendous speed in Russia.
While many would become disillusioned with Nemtsov, Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin, and the reforms that had taken place, at that time he was still a very popular and charismatic individual.
The conspiracy theory blaming the opposition also makes no sense. While people will fondly remember Nemtsov and his charisma, he was never really effective in the opposition. Further, there is no iconic leader to solidify the opposition and effectively try to take on Putin. So while the opposition will surely utilize the Nemtsov murder to their benefit, it really doesn't make logical sense that they were behind the murder either.
What the murder and the theories about the murder do show is how quick everyone is to jump to conclusions about who is responsible for this horrific act. People who normally would wait to assess the facts before jumping to conclusions are trying to run ahead of this story and are making bold claims that have little basis in fact. As human beings we all interpret facts through our perceptions of the world, but this event has the potential for making us perceive and assume facts that have no basis in reality.
Rather than trying to solve this murder in the hours after Nemtsov's unfortunate death without having seen any of the evidence, we should first remember fondly Nemtsov's life. We should fondly remember him as the young charismatic leader that could electrify a crowd. We should mourn his loss and think of his poor family in this tragic time. He was the father of four children who will never be able to look upon their father again. His death is a true tragedy for them.
Boris Netmsov at an opposition protest in February 201 Source: Ilya Schurov / Wikipedia.org
One of the most tragic aspects of Nemtsov's death is that it showed that the hopes and dreams of people during the 1990s in Russia have died with Nemtsov. The dream that Russia would become a very strong ally of the United States and that there was no way that we would ever return to a period of the Cold War where we could trust each other enough to wait for a full investigation before jumping to conclusions were lost today.
No matter what the investigation discovers, there are those in the opposition and the West that will always believe that Putin ordered the hit on Nemtsov. So too will Putin's supporters always insist that the opposition planned this hit to score points against Putin.
The truth of the matter is that we may never know who was behind the killing. The killing just doesn't make logical sense. There must be more to the story than we will ever know. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive to find out the truth. The Russian people need and deserve to find out the reason for his death no matter where the investigation may lead.
The conspiracy theories demean Nemtsov and his legacy in post-Soviet Russia. We should take the proper time to mourn his passing and let a proper investigation take place. There will be time to debate the conspiracy theories later.
For now, we need to take a moment to reflect upon the life of Boris Nemtsov and how in many ways he embodied the evolution of post-Soviet Russia. In other ways he was the opposite of Russian evolution following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He was instrumental in the evolution of Russia in the 1990s, but became an outspoken critic in the 2000s. Most recently he spoke out openly against the annexation of Crimea by Russia, calling the annexation illegal. Considering how popular the annexation of Crimea was in Russia, his views did not find resonance with a large percentage of the population. This makes his death even more perplexing as he did not view the situation in the same way as most Russians did.
As we all reflect on Nemtsov, let us all remember him with fondness and hope that his killer receives justice. Let us pray for his family and let us all hope that in our haste to assign blame for this tragedy that we stay responsible and let the investigation proceed before we make up our minds. We owe him that much. Doing so may ensure that he truly rests in peace.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.