Today, I will attended (as an observer because as a foreigner, who does not have to live in this country, I feel that I can comment on Russia but I must let Russians run their own affairs) the mourning procession for Boris Nemtsov in Moscow. In some ways the murder of Nemtsov is the most significant event in Moscow since Boris Yeltsin used tanks to blast the White House in October 1993 (I was also in Moscow at that time).
Of course, the murder of one man (even a man of Nemstov’s stature) does not compare to the hundreds of people killed in 1993.
What makes the Nemtsov murder so significant is that it has occurred against the present back-ground of the events in the Ukraine and strong anti-Putin sentiment in most “Western” countries, and is the latest in a series of such killings of Putin critics — including Anna Politkovskaya (an investigative journalist, was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment on Putin’s birthday in 2006) and Alexander Litvinenko (by radiation poisoning in London, also in 2006).
Putin has already totally lost the trust of “Western” political leaders. The additional negative feelings resulting from the Nemtsov murder will mean that even if the situation in the Ukraine improves it will be very difficult for “Western” sanctions to be eased. Positive sentiment toward Russia will be zero; indeed, any sentiment will be negative!
The danger for the Russian economy now is that Russia becomes an almost total no-go zone for the vast majority of (direct and indirect) “Western” investors. And, despite some Russian hopes, Chinese businesspeople will be similarly unimpressed. (I have spent most of the last year living in Shanghai, and my attempts to interest Chinese businesspeople in Russia have received a pretty flat response. They read the same “news” that we do in the “West”.)
In Russia, the fear will be that criticism of Putin and his policies – even if legitimate – will lead to a bullet in the back! Who is next?
There are some claims that the Nemtsov murder was a “provocation” or a so-called “false flag” operation, designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as if they are being carried out by other entities. In this case, it is argued, someone has murdered Nemtsov with the intent that Putin will be blamed.
I doubt this.
In some ways, it does not really matter whether or not Putin ordered the killing of Nemtsov, Litvinenko or Politkovskaya. He bears some of the responsibility.
Why? Because at the very least he has created a political climate in which extreme nationalists or Putin supporters feel that they can do such things and escape punishment.
There was a similar situation in Italy in 1924 when Giacomo Matteotti, an passionate socialist opponent of Mussolini and his Fascists, disappeared and was later found murdered. The police found some evidence about who was responsible, and this included Amerigo Dumini who was occasionally employed by Mussolini as a thug to intimidate voters.
It is generally agreed – although not universally so – that there is no evidence linking Mussolini to the murder. Although he may have ordered it, it could also be the case that Dumini himself decided that Matteotti was a threat to Mussolini’s power and had to be eliminated. His murder could have been a demonstration of Dumini’s loyalty to Mussolini.
Since his return to the presidency in 2012, Putin has promoted many policies that inevitably lead to such men as Dumini feeling that they know what is right and who are willing to act in a violent way.
Finally there is the issue of “Western” hypocrisy.
President Obama has urged a “transparent investigation”. To be consistent, Obama should urge the British to conduct a “transparent” inquest into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko (see article below).
More background to the Litvinenko issue can be found in my December 2013 blog: http://www.jeffschubert.com/index.php?id=119
Things are not good for the Russian economy, Russian economic reform, or Russia generally!