Saturday, February 27, 2016

JOSHUA YAFFA - The Unaccountable Death of Boris Nemtsov

 Saturday afternoon, friends and colleagues of Boris Nemtsov, joined by thousands of others, will march in Moscow, marking a year since the day Nemtsov was assassinated. Late in the evening on February 27th, 2015, Nemtsov was walking home across a bridge that spans the Moscow River, not far from the Kremlin and the bulbous domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral. The killer shot Nemtsov four times, from behind, as his girlfriend watched in terror.

Nemtsov, who was fifty-five years old, was once a precocious political talent, rising from provincial governor to become to become President Boris Yeltsin’s deputy prime minister. He never found his way in Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, and left government when his party was voted out of parliament, in 2003. He became one of the more energetic and charismatic figures in the country’s beleaguered political opposition. He was handsome, with a lively mane of light brown hair that turned silver over the years, which he swept to the side in the style of a television news anchor.

His murder was a terrible blow to the opposition and an unwelcome jolt to the political élite. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former political adviser to Putin who has become a critic of the Kremlin, told me, when I spoke to him for a magazine piece earlier this month, that Putin was “obviously stunned” by Nemtsov’s murder. “As a political assassination, this is direct interference in the politics of the federal center, and, what’s more, right under Putin’s nose.”

Under Putin, investigations of such killings, of which there have been a dozen or more, have tended to be slow and inconclusive. But in the case of Nemtsov, Putin granted the F.S.B.—the country’s main security agency, of which Putin was once the director—unusually wide license to go after the killers. According to a report published earlier this week by the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta, the head of the F.S.B. presented Putin with the names of suspects on March 2nd, three days after the killing. In the following days, they arrested five people, all ethnic Chechens with apparent connections to Ramzan Kadyrov, the colorful and brutal ruler of Chechnya.

F.S.B. generals had long distrusted Kadyrov, whom Putin allows greater autonomy than any other regional official. Now the rivalry between Kadyrov and the security services had spilled into the open. “Nemtsov’s assassination seemed to have exhausted their patience,” Novaya Gazeta wrote.

According to government investigators, the triggerman was Zaur Dadaev, the former deputy commander of Sever (“North”), a Chechen special-forces unit that is under Kadyrov’s informal authority. At first, Dadaev confessed to the crime, as did others in custody—but all later recanted their testimony, saying they had been threatened and subject to torture. The transcripts of their interrogations contained striking details about Nemtsov: they knew the model and license-plate number of his Range Rover, the address of his apartment, and the location of his office.

One suspect, Anzor Gubashev, who was said to be the getaway driver, told investigators that, beginning in October, 2014, he came to believe that Nemtsov was “carrying out a policy against our state, supporting the West and defaming our government.” Gubashev mentioned Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine, and called Nemtsov an agent of the C.I.A. and Obama. “We don’t feel the least bit sorry that we took him out, because from the very beginning he was a Western prostitute, and was causing all sorts of chaos,” Gubashev said during interrogation.

Many of Nemtsov’s allies, including Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Nemtsov’s family, say that the evidence points to a man named Ruslan Geremeyev, a high-ranking officer in Sever and a close friend of Dadaev’s. Geremeyev has deep connections to Kadyrov’s inner circle: he is the nephew of both Adam Delimkhanov, Kadyrov’s closest ally and purported enforcer, and Suleyman Geremeyev, a powerful Chechen politician. Other suspects in the case told investigators that Geremeyev spent time at the Moscow apartment where the assassins stayed during the weeks before the killing. The day after the murder, Dadaev and Geremeyev drove together to the Moscow Airport and boarded a flight to Chechnya, according to airport surveillance photos.

According to Prokhorov, investigators twice went to Alexander Bastrykin, a Putin loyalist who is the head of the country’s Investigative Committee, asking him to sign an indictment charging Geremeyev with involvement in the murder. Both times, Bastrykin refused. The investigators relayed the story to Prokhorov with a shrug, he recalled. “I guess the bosses know best,” one said...Read more: