Russian Roulette: A Guest Post by DYB
Posted March 12, 2015on:
Happy Friday the 13th Eve , y’all. For those with paraskevidekatriaphobia, get back under your beds. It’s safer there, and you can catch up on all of this over the weekend. For those of us still up and reading we have a treat – a guest post by our (like The Daily Show) Senior Russian Contributor, DYB.
I have watched the latest news from Russia, all the while scratching my head. During the Fabulous Fifties, we were taught to duck and cover our heads while crouching under our school desks whilst the atomic bombs rained down upon us, which is even more of a head-scratcher. We learned of the Czar, Anastasia, the Revolution, the gulags and so forth, and then Mr. Gorbachov tore down that wall. Since then, any number of Eastern European nations have emerged from the old Soviet bloc, and I have lost any grasp, tenuous that it may have been. I am not really capable of assessing the current developments, or even pronouncing the names correctly – just trying saying “Boris Nemtsov” with a Southern accent. So without further ado, here is D’s most welcomed post:
On February 27, 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot in the back four times. He was shot within view of the Kremlin. This may be significant not just for the poetic imagery (Nemtsov was a Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under Yeltsin and was a leading critic of Putin and his policies), but also because one may wonder how the assassins managed to kill a man as famous in Russia as Nemtsov and flee the scene of the crime. There can also be no doubt that Nemtsov, as a leading opposition figure, would be followed by the Russian secret service. There’s also the issue of the security video which shows the killing: except that the actual shooting is obscured by a snow-plow. Unusual not only for the perfect timing of the passing vehicle, but also for the fact that there was no snow on the ground. So how did someone manage to shoot Nemtsov in the back behind a perfectly timed slow-moving vehicle in the most heavily guarded area of Moscow – and disappear?
Boris Nemtsov was a well-known liberal figure in Russian politics. He served in Yeltsin’s government (including as First Deputy Prime Minister, a post Putin would later occupy) and was once introduced to Bill Clinton by Yeltsin as his most likely successor as President of Russia. Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, current opposition leader and Mentsov’s friend and sometimes rival, compared Nemtsov to Clinton in an op-ed he penned for the Wall Street Journal. Nemtsov’s career crashed along with the Russian stock market in the late 1990’s. But he remained in the public eye, taking on Putin’s authoritarian rule, his regime’s corruption and the recent war in Ukraine. At the time of his assassination Nemtsov was in Moscow to lead an anti-war rally in Moscow and said he was about to publish documents proving Russian government’s leading role in the war in the Ukraine. The rally would become mass protests against his murder.
Russian media, at least Putin’s 4 main channels (you can read novelist Gary Shteyngart’s by turns hilarious and horrifying binge-watching of Russian television in this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/magazine/out-of-my-mouth-comes-unimpeachable-manly-truth.html?_r=0 ), didn’t even cover the protests. Instead they showed musical showcases (think Dancing/Singing/Skating/Diving/Etc. With The Stars), movies and TV serials. Putin’s response so far has been of the “well isn’t it terrible” variety. Putin’s minions are blaming the West and maybe other opposition leaders for the death. They claim that either Nemtsov’s liberal colleagues had him killed to create a martyr or Muslims did it or the West is out to make Putin look bad. All scenarios are preposterous, of course, but reason and logic are in short supply. We only know that Putin keeps finding ways to silence his critics. From journalists like Anna Politkovskaya (assassinated), to human rights lawyers like Sergei Magnitsky (beaten to death in jail), former secret service agents Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned by plutonium), businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky (imprisoned), musicians Pussy Riot (also imprisoned), and political critics/rivals Alexei Navalny (still imprisoned), and now Nemtsov (assassinated)*, it is fascinating how Putin’s critics find themselves either in jail or dead. Putin has promised to personally oversee investigation into Nemtsov’murder.
The authorities did indeed just manage to arrest some men, claiming confessions have already been given. The men are Chechens, naturally. Well, we will probably never know if these exact men were involved; and most importantly, we are not likely to ever know on whose orders were they acting. But there is reason to fear that Putin’s rule has entered a dangerous new phase: the killing of not just little-known critics (previous victims like Politkovskaya and Magnitsky were not famous), but public assassinations of very well-known leaders. This death is a big threat and few critics of the Kremlin are likely to see it any other way. Going forward it will be interesting to see if the public falls back into indifference and fear of Putin – or if this murder will galvanize the opposition.
(*the list is nowhere near exhaustive.)
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