Monday, March 02, 2015

Who Killed Boris Nemtsov?

Practically no one in the West doubts the murder of once-rising reform politician Boris Nemtsov was the work of Vladimir Putin, and/or his allies in government. If Putin didn’t give the direct order, the pundits say, the Russian leader created the "atmosphere of hatred" directed at the Russian opposition, of which Nemtsov was a half-forgotten yet still active leader. This obviates the need for evidence, while giving the accusers ample room to back off if and when facts to the contrary are uncovered – evidence which can then be easily discounted, because, after all, everyone knows a real investigation is impossible in Putin’s Russia. Thus freed of the facts, our new Cold Warriors can elaborate their conspiracy theories without fear of contradiction.

Funny how political murders in the US – the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King – are invariably the work of a “lone nut,” but in Russia it’s always the Putin government. When Dr. David Kelly, a prominent weapons expert and critic of the evidence Whitehall had publicized to justify the Iraq war, committed "suicide" just as he was about to reveal how the British government had doctored up its brief, there were suspicions but these were dismissed as a "conspiracy theory." An entirely different standard is applied to Russia, and yet, aside from Anglo-American exceptionalism, perhaps there are some good reasons for this. Russia, after all, is a country where contract killings were once a staple of doing business: where gangsterism is widespread, and oligarchs, gorging on the riches of "privatized" companies, are in deadly competition for spoils in a system where government, and not the market, rules.

Boris Nemtsov, a reformer who rose to prominence in the chaos of post-Soviet Russia, made a lot of enemies along the way. That he met his end on a bridge a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, murdered in cold blood by a hit man, shocked the country and the world only because everyone thought the days when Russia resembled the Wild West were over. Vladimir Putin, we all thought, had ushered in an era of stability if not justice. Yet even Putin’s enemies, with some alarm, are now throwing doubt on the West’s conventional wisdom.

Speaking of the murder, Irina Khakamada, who co-founded with Nemtsov the opposition Solidarity Party, while blaming "the climate of intimidation," also warned that "the murder could herald a dangerous destabilization," according to Talking Points Memo. "It’s a provocation that is clearly not in Putin’s interests, it’s aimed at rocking the situation."

This, ironically, is the same line being taken by the Russian authorities, who listed a series of motives for the crime, number one being that the murder was a "provocation" designed to destabilize the Russian state and that Nemtsov was a “sacrificial victim for those who do not shun any method for achieving their political goals."

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