Within hours of politician Boris Nemtsov’s assassination on Friday, Russian media blamed every imaginable villain to distract from the government’s own suspected role in the death — from Islamic extremists to Ukrainian fascists to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nemtsov was shot point-blank from a car, just yards away from Moscow’s Kremlin, while strolling on an unseasonably warm winter evening. He had been a member of the Duma, Russia’s parliament, and a deputy prime minister in the 1990s before becoming an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin’s presidency. He had openly alleged that he was under close government surveillance, and earlier in February told a Russian paper that “I’m afraid Putin will kill me.”
The Twitter account of state-run English-language television network RT quickly suggested a range of motives in rapid succession. And its website quoted Putin, who alleged that the incident showed “signs of a contract murder” — that is, a mafia-style killing.
The federal Investigative Committee charged with prosecuting the incident also publicly speculated about reasons for the attack, including that anti-Putin forces seeking to “provoke political destabilization in Russia” used Nemtsov as “a kind of a sacral sacrifice for those who do not hesitate to do anything to reach their political goals.”
In a similar vein, Putin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov alleged that “Western intelligence agencies” were behind Nemtsov’s death. He made the suggestion on his famously unfettered and emoji-rich Instagram account, which also recently featured family members’ sporting accomplishments and pandas tumbling down a slide.
Nemtsov had also attracted attention among Russian politicians in recent weeks for expressing solidarity with the slain satirists at French magazine Charlie Hebdo. On these grounds, Russian government outlets (including the Investigative Committee) also tried to link his death to Muslim extremists.
And to round out the conspiracies, some have tried to blame Nemtsov’s death on Ukraine, in some areas of which Russia continues to maintain pro-secession troops. Nemtsov had been critical of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, calling him a “pathological liar.” State-run television network Zvezda has alleged that several particular Ukrainian nationalists, Dmitro Yarosh or Dmitro Korchinsky, could be responsible for his death.
He was also in the company of a 23-year-old Ukrainian model in the hours before his murder. The model, Anna Duritskaya, has said that Russian authorities have since banned her from traveling to Ukraine.
Nemtsov had been scheduled to lead a massive rally against the Ukraine war on Sunday. With news of his death, the original protest was canceled. In its place, thousands of Russians marched silently through Moscow carrying placards of Nemtsov’s face.
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