Sunday

20th Jan 2019

Nemtsov murder prompts major anti-Putin rally

  • Nemtsov was shot dead a stone's throw from the Kremlin (Photo: Jay Springett)

Tens of thousands of people attended a rally in Moscow to mark the murder of an opposition leader, in the biggest show of defiance in four years.

Russian police put the numbers on Sunday (1 March) at 21,000, but independent Russian media and the organisers of the event said between 50,000 and 70,000 people joined it following the killing of Boris Nemtsov on Friday.

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People carried placards which said "I am not afraid”, “He died for the future of Russia”, and “Fight on!”.

The rally saw a heavy police presence, with 50-or-so arrests on public disorder charges. It was peaceful, but some protesters yelled provocative slogans against Russian leader Vladimir Putin as they approached the Kremlin, the BBC reports, with chants of “Russia without Putin!" and "Putin, leave!”.

The rally was the largest show of defiance against authorities since 2011 and dwarfed any of the tiny anti-Ukraine war events in the past year.

The killing also attracted the attention of EU and US leaders and the UN, all of which have called for a full and transparent investigation.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said she is “dismayed by the devious murder”. France’s Francois Hollande called it “an odious assassination”. The UK’s David Cameron called it “callous” and “despicable”.

For her part, EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini hinted at a political motive.

“He was killed just before a demonstration against the effects of the economic crisis and the conflict in Ukraine which he was organising”, she said in a statement.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, who is to meet his Russian opposite number, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva this week also indicated he will press him for extra information.

But there is little hope either that Putin’s investigators will catch the killers or that the murder will lead to political change.

With the opposition pointing the finger at the authorities, Russian officials at the weekend began disseminating various other theories.

They indicated Nemtsov might have been killed: by the opposition in order to discredit Putin; by Russian “ultra-nationalists”; by Islamic extremists; or by his Ukrainian girlfriend’s jealous lover.

At the same time, Russian users of Twitter began flooding the social media site with accusations the US did it to stir instability.

“Judging by the hundreds, if not thousands of tweets in my ‘notifications’ saying ‘USA killed Nemtsov’, it’s obvious that it’s [a] paid campaign”, Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Moscow wrote.

“So depressing to read this”.

Commenting on the weekend’s developments, Russian dissident and former chess champion, Garry Kasparov, who lives in the US, told Reuters: “I see no chance for Russia now to move from Putin's brutal dictatorship into something that will be even [as] mild as we had 10 years ago”.

Gennady Gudkov, another opposition activist, said that if Putin doesn't stop his “campaign of hate” against critics “then we face the prospect of mass civil conflict”.

For his part, Mark Galeotti, a leading US scholar on Russia, noted: “Numbers [the turnout at the rally] were good. But one could feel that it was shock and horror, rather than hope, or initiative, that brought people out”.

Galeotti wrote in his blog that his “working hypothesis is that Nemtsov was killed by some murderous mavericks, not government agents, nor opposition fanatics”.

But he said Putin’s nationalist propaganda created the political and psychological climate which led to the murder.

Alexander Baunov, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, added: “Putin will most likely try to investigate a killing that does him no favours ... but it’s more than likely that he will eventually have to stop as soon as the investigation runs into some friends or allies, or friends of the allies, or perhaps active opponents of the enemies of the state”.

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