Putin’s reign of terror: The Kremlin’s bid to kill the opposition
On the day of the anti-government march that he was due to lead, all eyes remain on Russia following the killing of former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov.
Across the world political figures, activists and mourners urge Russia to determine the true reason behind his murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.
While some claim the murder was intended to rally support for today’s protest, many condemn president Putin for playing a role in the assassination. Much weight has been placed on the latter theory, a sentiment reiterated by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
While the world waits in anticipation of the events that will unfold, Nemtsov, 55, joins at least nine widely known critics of Putin who have died in suspicious circumstances since the beginning of his first term as president in 2000.
In direct attacks against free speech, notable journalists critical of Putin have been killed during his presidential regime in his bid to crack down on dissent. Paul Khlebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya were murdered in 2004 and 2006 respectively; Khlebnikov, an editor for Forbes Russia was known for his investigations into political corruption in the country, while Politkovskaya was a staunch critic of Putin’s regime and condemned his war in Chechnya. Both were shot to death and those who ordered the hits have never been found.
In addition to this, Anastasiya Baburova, who wrote for opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was also killed in a shooting in 2009. She was shot in daylight close to the Kremlin after attending a press conference.
Also in 2009, Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, a fierce critic of Putin’s role in Chechnya, was abducted from her home and later found dead at the side of a road with bullet wounds to her head and chest. Colleagues said she had discovered “extremely sensitive” cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. The BBC’s Russia correspondent at the time said Estemirova had engaged in “very important and dangerous work”. Her killers have never been found.
Nemtsov’s murder comes exactly one month after the opening of a public tribunal in London into the fatal poisoning of KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in a London hotel by two Russian security servicemen. Litvinenko had accused Putin of involvement in terrorism, paedophilia and arranging the murder of Politkovskaya. Russia has since refused to extradite the two suspects to Britain.
If Putin is indeed behind these murders, their influence in Russian society was, at best, considered problematic for his undemocratic presidency. Certainly, if they had campaigned in a civil and democratic country, liberated by freedom of speech, their influence in calling for change in Russia would have known no bounds.
Now, undoubtedly, the movements and actions of former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former first deputy chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov as well as Nemtsov’s colleagues and the remaining leaders of the Republican party of Russia will be subject to scrutiny in the wake of Friday’s killing.
They themselves must now be more cautious than ever because irrespective of government involvement, evidently, the opposition in Russia do not fare well.