Russian authorities are said to be holding four suspects in the killing of Boris Nemtsov. Who ordered the hit and why? Still unknown
The funeral of Boris Nemtsov on Tuesday
There's confusion mixed with more than a little skepticism about the two guys Russian authorities have nabbed on suspicion of being the ones who carried out the hit on one of the most visible opponents of the Putin regime, Boris Nemtsov. On one point, there seems to be general agreement, though: Nobody knows where to point the finger of blame for commissioning the job.
An announcement that the suspects, identified as Anzor Kubashev and Zaur Dadayev, from the North Caucasus, are in custody was made in an extremely unusual announcement on state television by the director of the Federal Security Service (the FSB), Russia's internal law-enforcement agency, Alexander Bornikov. The general assumption is that the government is trying to demonstrate an interest in solving the case, something that is by no means taken for granted. The suspects have not yet been arraigned.
Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that in addition to the two suspects reported detained by FSB Director Bortnikov, two additional suspects were arrested yesterday in the southern republic of Ingushetia. According to RIA Novosti, a Russian state-operated news agency, one of the additional suspects is said by Albert Barahoev, secretary of the Ingushetia Security Council, to have been driving with the suspect Dudayev and the other is the younger brother. According to Barahoev, all four suspects are ethnic Chechens.
According to the New York Times's Neil MacFarquhar, the news agency Interfax is quoting a Russian government official, Mikhail Fedotov, saying, "Certainly, it is important to find both those who committed and those who ordered this brazen and cynical crime." Skeptics include a Nemtsov ally, Ilya Yashin, who, according to MacFarquhar,
expressed the widespread skepticism among activists that this case would prove any different from previous murders in which those responsible were never identified. Given the lack of significant details, “it is hard to judge whether these are the real perpetrators or whether the investigation went down the wrong track,” he wrote on his Facebook page.Russian authorities haven't had a lot of luck in identifying a growing series of killings of critics of the government. Naturally government involvement is suspected, which it's suggested is why the government is so eager to show off its suspects in the killing of Boris Nemtsov.
The onetime deputy prime minister, you'll recall, was gunned down a little over a week ago, shortly after midnight that Friday, almost within spitting distance of the Kremlin, by what is presumed to be a team of at least two people, a gunman and a getaway driver. Nemtsov, MacFarquhar, recalls,
was shot in the back by a man who had been hiding on a staircase leading up to the bridge across the Moscow River, according to police accounts. After shooting Mr. Nemtsov at least four times in the back, the shooter fled in a light-colored car driven by someone else.At the time Nemtsov was accompanied by his girlfriend, who was apparently unhurt. FSB Director Bornikov didn't have much else to say about the investigation. But as MacFarquhar reports, Interfax has an unidentified source who says that --
the police had been able to trace the men both through cellphone activity around the location of the killing and from DNA testing of evidence found in the suspected getaway car. The Interfax report said although the two men were the suspects in carrying out the killing, the people who organized it have yet to be identified. . . .Skeptical Nemtsov ally Ilya Yashin, MacFarquhar reports, "called on the authorities to release any substantial evidence they had, such as pictures from the security cameras, so the public would know that the case was real."
Interfax quoted an unidentified law enforcement source as saying the vehicle was found quickly. Investigators got clear pictures of the suspects from cameras on the bridge, the report said. However, there have been confused reports all week in Russia about whether the cameras were working and what they were able to capture. Finally, cellphone conversations helped lead to the suspects, Interfax reported.
More important, he said, the authorities had to identify not just the perpetrators, but whoever was behind them.Last week I quoted the view expressed in a newyorker.com post by Joshua Yaffa that even if the government didn't give the order for the hit on Nemtsov, it created a "political environment" that "allowed for this to happen."
It is not uncommon in high-profile cases to detain the perpetrators, which allows the authorities to present a good picture on television, he said. “But if whoever ordered it can avoid responsibility, then the practice of political assassinations will no doubt continue,” he added.
Over the past year, in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, Russia has seen the rise of a new, much coarser and more doctrinaire political language. During the first decade of Putin’s rule, the Kremlin depicted its opponents as freaks or idiots, but now they are portrayed as outright enemies of their country. In a triumphant address to parliament last March, as Russia was formalizing its takeover of Crimea, Putin warned of “a fifth column,” a “disparate bunch of national traitors” determined to sow discord inside the country.Nemtsov was actively engaged in preparations for an anti-government protest last Sunday, and in a radio interview shortly before he was killed, in addition to urging listeners to participate in the protest, had "connect[ed] the country’s economic woes to Putin’s policy in Ukraine. Yaffa reported that , according to Nemtsov's friend Ilya Yashin, his friend "had been preparing a new report on Russia’s participation in the war in Ukraine." The report, Yaffa reported, will be published posthumously.