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10th May 2021

EU chair Latvia calls for 'answers' on Nemtsov killing

  • The murder took place on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky bridge, a stones throw from the Kremlin (Photo: Jon Deane)

The murder of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition leader, in central Moscow has prompted strong statements from some EU capitals and the US.

Russian state media said he was shot four times at around 11.15pm local time on Friday (27 February) on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky bridge, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, by an “unknown assailant” in a white car.

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  • Nemtsov had called for a rally against the Ukraine war shortly before he was killed (Photo: Sergey Rodovnichenko)

They said president Vladimir Putin was “immediately informed” and has launched an inquest which he will “personally head”.

They also said police were conducting a manhunt.

The killing of the 55-year old politician, a former deputy prime minister and a father of four, came shortly after he’d spoken on the independent Ekho Moskvy radio station, urging people to join a rally, on 1 March, against the war in Ukraine.

The first EU reaction came in a tweet by the foreign minister of Latvia, which currently holds the EU presidency.

“Horrible news … condolences to family, Russia must conduct swift, non-partial investigation, provide answers”, Edgars Rinkevics said.

Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuania’s ambassador to the US, was more strident. “Time 4Russian people 2wake up & defend their dignity. #Putinkiller preparing Russia 4totalitarian rule. Road 2hell. RIP Nemtsov”, his tweet said.

For his part, US president Barack Obama echoed Latvia's plea, calling for "a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his murder".

He described Nemtsov as "a tireless advocate for his country, seeking for his fellow Russian citizens the rights to which all people are entitled".

Suspicion

Inside Russia fellow opposition activists pointed the finger at the authorities or their supporters.

“Nemtsov … criticised the most important state officials in our country, including president Vladimir Putin. As we have seen, such criticism in Russia is dangerous for one's life”, Ilya Yashin told Ekho Moskvy.

Nemtsov’s lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, told Kommersant, a liberal daily: “I'm sure that this has a political motive, and that the murder could have been committed by someone returning from the conflict zone in south-eastern Ukraine”.

According to Reuters, Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian PM, told reporters at the scene of the crime: "That a leader of the opposition could be shot beside the walls of the Kremlin is beyond imagination. There can be only one version: that he was shot for telling the truth”.

The Kremlin also described the murder as political, but hinted that the motive is to create instability.

"Putin noted that the violent murder bears the marks of a contract killing and is purely provocative," Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Tass news agency, a state mouthpiece.

The Nemtsov killing is the latest in a series of high-profile murders of anti-corruption activists, human rights campaigners, and Kremlin critics under Putin’s leadership.

The list includes, but is not limited to, Alexei Devotchenko, Natalia Estemirova, Alexander Litvinenko (killed in the UK), Sergei Magnitsky, Stanislav Markelov, and Anna Politkovskaya.

The responsible persons have not been brought to justice in any of the cases.

Sanctions

The EU and US have imposed sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The US has also imposed separate sanctions over the Magnitsky case on human rights grounds.

But the EU has refused to do so, with diplomats saying they can't prove who killed him and that they can't set a precedent of imposing blacklists for the sake of individual criminal cases overseas.

Bill Browder, Magnitsky’s former employer, who is campaigning for the EU to follow suit with its own Magnitsky-linked blacklist, said: “Last night Russia entered a new and dark phase in its slide toward totalitarian dictatorship”.

“I can only hope that Boris Nemtsov's legacy will ultimately bring about the democratic change in Russia he worked his whole life to achieve”.

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Stakeholder

Strengthening Russia's European Foundations

A year after the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the ALDE Group in the European Parliament hosted a series of events to commemorate his fight for a free and democratic Russia.

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