by Ambra Visentin

On Monday 27 February, actions took place in Moscow and several other Russian cities to commemorate opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, former governor of Nizhny Novgorod and deputy prime minister of the federal government, who was murdered exactly eight years ago, and to protest against the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war against Ukraine. In the Russian capital, people brought flowers to a spontaneous memorial that sprang up at the scene of the politician’s murder on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge shortly after the crime. Sota wrote that police were selectively stopping passers-by, but no arrests have been made. In the past, the authorities have repeatedly removed flowers and photos and detained activists, but the memorial has been revived. Lately the authorities have not touched it.

The reasons for the limited intervention of the state police may lie in the fact that ‘the regime’ no longer considers them a threat, as can be seen from the analysis of a newspaper close to the government: ‘Enthusiasm for Nemtsov’s tragic death is waning year by year. The White Counter organisation, which has been counting participants in mass socio-political events for ten years, provides the following data on the size of ‘Boris Nemtsov marches’ in Moscow: 2015 – 51.6 thousand people, 2016 – 24 thousand, 2017 – 15.2 thousand, 2018 – 7.6 thousand, 2019 – 10.8 thousand, 2020 – 22.3 thousand. In 2021-2023, for various reasons, these marches did not take place at all. As you can see, even for the huge Russian capital, the memorial “marches” have always been few, and their organisers clearly overestimated the figure of Boris Nemtsov. The noise of the rally proves unconvincing, the alternative ‘investigations’ into the circumstances of the murder attract no one”.

Nemtsov’s political legacy is also severely criticised: “His cause for the collapse of Russia lives on in the words and actions of his successors. The best illustration of this is the recent speech by the politician’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, at the Munich Security Conference on 18 February. In it, we find the whole range of liberal ideological narratives: faith ‘in Russia’s European future’ and regret over the fate of ‘Memorial’ and fabrications about the ‘crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine’. In general, Boris Nemtsov left a legacy that modern Russia resolutely rejects”.

On 1 March 2015, Putin’s opponent, promoting an anti-crisis march in Russia, had made a series of remarks on the impact of the war in Ukraine for the citizens of the federation and the Kremlin-led arms race: “Suddenly Putin doubled spending on the army in three years. The result is a war with Ukraine, an economic crisis, the collapse of the health and pension systems and the degradation of the regions. Tell me, do we need this? Most will say no! Most will choose oil over guns”.

Opposition actions of any kind have become rare in Russia since the war against Ukraine began. At improvised memorials to Ukrainian victims, people who try to lay flowers are repeatedly arrested. Among other things, Nemtsov was considered a great supporter of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the West. He was shot dead in a car at the age of 55. In 2017, a court sentenced the alleged killer and four accomplices from the North Caucasus to long prison terms. But the murder of the opposition politician still raises many questions.

Members of a commando unit of Russia’s domestic security service, the FSB, apparently followed prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov until shortly before his death. According to an investigation by the investigative platforms Bellingcat and The Insider in cooperation with the British BBC, the agents began their surveillance in May 2014 at the latest. The last time they were seen around Nemtsov was shortly before he was shot dead in Moscow on 27 February 2015. It is unlikely that the FSB agents were simply tailing the opposition figure. They followed Nemtsov with a strategy similar to that used by the assassins of Alexei Navalny: When travelling within Russia, they usually arrived just before Navalny and left a short time later – never on the same train or plane.

Nemtsov’s family and supporters have never come to terms with the outcome of the investigation and have strongly criticised the trial of the alleged perpetrators. Nemtsov was Russia’s deputy prime minister under former president Boris Yeltsin. After current President Vladimir Putin succeeded him, Nemtsov became his main domestic political rival.

Cover image: Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge © Marco Fieber on Flickr