The Russian media is raising awkward questions for the Kremlin surrounding the murder of prominent opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.
Russians have become familiar with the so-called “Chechnya trace” of high profile killings. Investigations by the authorities into the murders of prominent individuals in Russia invariably find a connection to Chechnya, or its neighbouring Caucasus republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Russia fought two wars in the 1990s against the Chechens.
Usually, suspects are located fairly quickly and put on trial, while those that organised and paid for the killings disappear into the ether.
And somewhat unsurprisingly, of the five men that have been arrested in connected with the murder, which took place on a Moscow bridge in front of the Kremlin at the end of last month, all five are from the Caucasus region situated between the Black and the Caspian seas in Russia.
In a powerful editorial, Vedomosti asks whether those responsible for commissioning the murder of Nemtsov will be named this time.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a former warlord turned Kremlin ally, has called one of the suspects Zaur Dadayev a “true patriot of Russia” in a post on the social network Livejournal. The post links the killing with Nemtsov’s support for French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was attacked in January by gunmen leading to the death of at least 12 people.
The magazine had published images of the prophet Muhammad, which according to Kadyrov had “shocked” the devout Dadayev along with Nemtsov’s “comments in support of printing the cartoons”. Not only does the post appear to provide official support for Dadayev’s alleged actions, it also comes as Kadyrov himself received the Order of Honour medal from President Vladimir Putin in recognition of his “professional achievements, public activities and many years of diligent work”. (Andrei Lugovoi, the main suspect in the 2006 murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko by polonium poisoning in London, also got a medal.)
The argument that Nemtsov was targeted by muslims angry about Charlie Hebdo is so flimsy that it almost beggars belief. Here are all the statements that Nemtsov made in regard to Charlie Hebdo, as collected by The Moscow Times:
“The tragedy with the killing of 12 journalists of Charlie Hebdo magazine has shocked all normal people. My condolences to the families and loved ones of the innocently slain journalists. When Russia’s Council of Muftis calls the actions of the publication’s journalists a provocation and a sin, it is justifying the terrorists.” (Facebook, Jan. 7)
“Tolerance ends there where violence begins. Many in Europe do not understand this. As a result, [French right-wing politician Marine] Le Pen will win.” (Facebook, Jan. 8)
“Since the dawn of time, people have been killed for their beliefs. Romans crucified Jesus and persecuted Christians, and during the Middle Ages hundreds of thousands of people were burned alive on the bonfires of the Inquisition. … Now we are witnessing a medieval Islamic inquisition. Centuries will pass and Islam will mature, and terrorism will become a thing of the past.” (Ekho Moskvy, Jan. 9)
That’s it. Hardly the incendiary commentary that Kadyrov hints at in his post, nor would it appear sufficient to prompt even the most devout fanatic to travel the nearly 2,000 km from Chechnya to Moscow to risk their life and liberty in an audacious attack on the steps of the Kremlin.
In other words, it pushes at the furthest stretches of credibility to claim that former soldier and Interior Ministry employee Dadayev, a “fearless and courageous soldier” in Kadyrov’s words, so adept at following orders on the battlefield, took it upon himself to make this trip. Rather his patriotism and devotion could be read as pointing to the true authors of the crime holding positions further up the chain of command.
As Vedomosti points out, most murders with links to Chechnya are to do with local disputes over influence of business interests. The fact that Nemtsov appeared to have very little to do with Chechnya directly makes the link in this case all the more tenuous.
The Kremlin will be hoping that the arrests will go some way to reassuring the Russian people that they are taking action to bring Nemtsov’s killers to justice. Settling for a partial truth this time, however, is not convincing anyone.
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