World leaders condemn murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and a sharp critic of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was reportedly shot four times in the back by a killer in a passing car.
Cameron said the callous murder must be “fully, rapidly and transparently investigated, and those responsible brought to justice”.
“His life was dedicated to speaking up tirelessly for the Russian people, to demanding their right to democracy and liberty under the rule of law, and to an end to corruption,” the prime minister said. “He did so without fear, and never gave in to intimidation.”
The US president called on Russia’s government to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent” investigation, describing Nemtsov as a “tireless advocate” for citizens’ rights and fighting corruption.
‘Assassination’A spokesman for German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she was dismayed by Nemtsov’s killing and praised his courage in criticising government policies.
The office of the French president, François Hollande, described the killing as an “assassination” and described the politician as a “courageous and tireless defender of democracy and a dogged fighter against corruption”.
The killing took place in the very centre of Moscow late on Friday evening on a bridge near St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, two days before Nemtsov was due to lead a major opposition rally in Moscow.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president would take the investigation into Nemtsov’s death under “personal control”, and that he believed the killing to be a provocation.
“Putin noted that this cruel killing has all the signs of a hit, and is a pure provocation,” said Peskov. He said Putin offered condolences to Nemtsov’s family.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev echoed the suggestion that the killing was a provocation: “It’s an attempt to push the situation into complications, maybe even to destabilising the situation in the country.”
Russia’s investigative committee was pursuing several lines on inquiry, including the possibility it was an attempt to destabilise the political landscape.
The committee, which reports to Putin, said the killing could be linked with events in Ukraine or have been carried out by radical Islamists. Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the committee, said Nemtsov had received threats in connection with his position on the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last month.
Nemtsov, 55, was deputy prime minister during the 1990s in the government of Boris Yeltsin. He had written a number of reports in recent years linking Putin and his inner circle to corruption, and was one of the most well-known politicians among Russia’s small and beleaguered opposition.
‘Shot four times in the back’Footage from the scene showed police experts examining the corpse of a man, dressed in jeans and lying on the tarmac, with the domes of St Basil’s in the background. Fellow opposition politicians confirmed the news, while a police spokeswoman said a manhunt was under way for the killer.
“He was shot four times in the back, as a result of which he died,” Elena Alekseyeva told Russian television. She added that the killer escaped in a light-coloured car.
Other official sources told Russian media that Nemtsov had been walking with a female companion, who was unharmed, at the time of the killing. The woman was reportedly a Ukrainian national and was taken for questioning by police. One report described her as a model who was 30 years his junior.
Just hours before his death, Nemtsov had appeared on Ekho Moskvy radio calling on Muscovites to attend an opposition march planned for Sunday. The march against Putin’s government and the war in Ukraine was due to take place in a suburb of Moscow.
On Saturday opposition leaders said they wanted to cancel the rally and hold a memorial event in the centre instead. Authorities said this would not be permitted.
Opposition figure Leonid Volkov later tweeted that a march had been sanctioned by the Moscow mayor’s office. It would go from Kitay-Gorod metro station to the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, where the politician was killed.
One of the other organisers of the march, Alexei Navalny, was jailed on 19 February for 15 days. Nemtsov himself had been detained briefly a number of times in recent years for taking part in political rallies, and was seen as one of the old guard of the Russian opposition.
“Today before the programme he asked me if I wasn’t scared to have him on air,” Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, tweeted. “It wasn’t me who needed to be scared.”
“We will answer Nemtsov’s murder with everyone coming out to the rally on 1 March, it’s the best thing we can do for now,” wrote Gennady Gudkov, another opposition politician, on Twitter.
The immediate reaction in Moscow was one of shock and amazement. While there has been a noticeable crackdown on opposition since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012, and especially since the conflict in Ukraine, no major political figure has been killed in Russia for a decade. Many previous contract killings, such as that of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, were never solved.
‘Rolling into the abyss’On Saturday morning, people came to lay flowers at the site of the murder.
Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister now also in opposition, said: “In the 21st century, a leader of the opposition is being demonstratively shot just outside the walls of the Kremlin.
“The country is rolling into the abyss.”
Russian pro-democracy activist and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov said on his Facebook page: “Devastated to hear of the cold-blooded murder of my long-time opposition colleague Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow, quite close to the Kremlin.
“Shot four times, once for each child he leaves behind. A man of Boris’s quality no longer fit Putin’s Russia.
“He always believed Russia could change from the inside and without violence; after 2012 I disagreed with this. When we argued, Boris would tell me I was too hasty and that in Russia you had to live a long time to see change. Now he’ll never see it. Rest In Peace.”
Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Russia from 2012-2014 and now a Stanford University professor, called the shooting “one of the most shocking things that I can remember happening in Russia for a long, long time”.
Earlier this month, Nemtsov gave an interview in which he said he was scared that Putin would try to have him killed. A self-assured and colourful character, Nemtsov enjoyed the media spotlight and never minced his words. He came to prominence as a reform-minded governor in the Nizhny Novgorod region during the 1990s, before he was named deputy prime minister under Yeltsin.
He had criticised Putin and his regime both for corruption and for the recent war in Ukraine, which he said was manufactured by Putin. He was featured in a number of lists of traitors and members of a supposed “fifth column” inside Russia published by pro-Kremlin and nationalist figures.
Putin himself has spoken of a “fifth column” in the country and, in recent weeks, politicians and nationalists launched an “anti-Maidan” movement in Russia and said they would not allow opposition politicians to create a Ukrainian-style uprising in Moscow, suggesting that the opposition was working at the behest of foreign enemies of Russia.