I received the news that Boris Nemtsov had been murdered as I was leaving the cinema. When I jumped to the news sites to confirm the story, my first thoughts were that this is another Kirov. Sergey Kirov was a popular leader in the post-Lenin Soviet Union, and was shot and killed by unknown assassins in 1934. Speculation abounds that Stalin ordered the hit, but despite the obvious threat that Kirov posed to Stalin’s leadership, there is no evidence which supports his involvement.
What we do know is that Stalin siezed the opportunity to launch a nationwide campaign of repression against enemies both real and imagined, having shed crocodile tears over Kirov’s death and vowing to handle the matter personally. Involvement in Kirov’s assassination became a common accusation in the show trials that followed, as Stalin consolidated his power in what became known as the Great Terror.
Before I had a chance to post this, Streetwise Professor had noted the same parallel:
With a chutzpah that puts OJ Simpson’s pledge to track down the real killers to shame, Putin announced that he is putting his Chekist skilz to work and taking personal charge of the investigation.
In other words, we are going to see a reprise of the Kirov murder, which Stalin exploited to justify the purges that began soon thereafter. Note the similarity:
“Comrade Stalin personally directed the investigation of Kirov’s assassination. He questioned Nikolayev at length. The leaders of the Opposition placed the gun in Nikolayev’s hand!” (Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1945.)
Perhaps the anti-war activities and revelations about Putin’s lies about Ukraine were the proximate cause of Nemtsov’s killing. But I think that the murder serves a far larger purpose for Putin. It eliminates a gadfly, yes, but Nemtsov was hardly a threat. But a la Stalin and Kirov, the murder gives Putin a pretext to unleash a full-scale repression.
As with the murder of Anna Politkovsyaya (fitted-up Chechens notwithstanding), I doubt we’ll ever know who killed Nemtsov because, as the Prof. points out, Putin’s personal involvement will:
“[E]nsure that no mistakes are made that could result in the identification of the real executioners. There are frames to be fitted.
Indeed. The last thing that Putin et al will be interested in is finding the killer, they’ll care far more about exploiting this for all it’s worth. Although it would be tempting to suggest Nemtsov was whacked on Putin’s orders, I think this would be unlikely. I don’t believe Nemtsov posed enough of a threat to Putin’s rule, and direct assassinations are not his style. I suspect it was more of a case of Nemtsov being a modern day Thomas Becket, and I was about to post this when I noticed David Duff had beaten me to it:
So, on the day that ‘Vlad the Impaler’ successfully imitates Henry II of England by asking the Russian equivalent of ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest/irritating critic’ … the exceedingly courageous, liberal politician, Boris Nemtsov, was shot down in cold blood by four gunmen.
Perhaps some hothead, hearing Putin had a problem, jumped in to do his patriotic duty? With this sort of thing going on, it will be difficult to rule out an independent group thinking they were doing Putin a favour:
Putin’s Russia has crossed a Rubicon: it now has sanctioned the Anti-Maidan Movement, a domestic version of Hitler’s storm troopers, and thus created a monster that almost certainly will engage in pogroms against one group or another in the future, according to Moscow commentator Matvey Ganapolsky.
As Ganapolsky reports, “the new Russian storm troopers call themselves ‘the Anti-Maidan Movement” and have ostensibly been created by the Militant Brotherhood, the Union of Afghanistan Veterans, the Central Cossack Forces and the Night Wolves, thus allowing the Kremlin plausible deniability about who and what is really behind them. (h/t Samizdata)
Personally I have no idea, but there is one thing of which we can be absolutely sure: the Russian population will swallow wholesale whatever bullshit the Kremlin will come out with. For a nation of individuals who believe they can sniff out bullshit across a mile of Steppe – which they often can – they don’t half believe in some batshit insane conspiracy theories. Take a look at this comment, from a Russian, over at Mr Duff’s place:
It’s a sort of strange… the last summer… the USA insists sanctions against Russia to be introduced, the EU doesn’t go for it… MH17 falls… and then EU introduces the sanctions.
The end of the winter… the USA insists new sanctions against Russia to be introduced and Russia is to be isolated the EU doesn’t go for it… a well-known (but not popular) oppositioneer is killed… what’s next?
Yet laughably, a few comments down the same chap points to an article in The Daily Telegraph and says:
If anyone would like I can provide a step-by-step brainwashing analysis of the twaddle written in the article below. It made me laugh. However, as Russian proverb says – it would be merry if it wasn’t so sad. The West judges about Russia by that kind of scribbles made by propagandists.
There’s a lot of this. Otherwise intelligent Russians are convinced everything they read about Russia is unalloyed, CIA-produced propaganda whilst simultaneously believing the most Blofeldian conspiracy theories dreamed up for domestic consumption. This is by no means unique to Russia, but it is probably more prevalent there than anywhere I’ve been save the Middle East (there, you’d have little difficulty persuading the bloke at the next desk that the moon is really an Israeli weapon aimed at controlling the minds of American presidents). I remember being in Sakhalin shortly after the South Korean warship ROKS Cheonan was sunk. I was at a barbecue and one of the Russian engineers who I vaguely knew – an intelligent, professional man – declared confidently that the Americans sunk it and – these were his exact words – he was “an expert in this subject”. His expertise consisted of his having studied in South Korea, and this was apparently enough to conclude that the Americans had sunk it in order to demolish any hopes of a peace deal between North and South Korea thus allowing them to keep their troops on the peninsula and dominate the region.
Now there are no doubt plenty of people in the West who also believe this bollocks and more like it, but generally they are on the crankier end of the political spectrum and have limited influence beyond obscure truther web forums. But in Russia, this kind of stuff is peddled on government media and gobbled up by the mainstream population. I mentioned in an earlier post that most Russians believe they had no choice to invade Crimea because the Americans were about to build a naval base there. The accept without question the Kremlin line that Russia cannot tolerate having Nato on its borders, despite Russia enjoying borders with Poland as a Nato member since 1999 and Estonia and Latvia since 2004.
So I think it will come as no surprise if, in the coming weeks, we hear from ordinary Russians that Nemtsov was killed by American spooks looking to discredit Putin/escalate the Ukrainian crisis/galvanise the Europeans into accepting stiffer sanctions and all manner of other nutjob conspiracy theories. And all the while they’ll find their own freedoms curtailed, their internet monitored, their economy crumbling, and more outspoken people beaten or killed as Russia rushes headlong back to the murderous, chaotic, and impoverished 1990s – and possible further.
All in the interests of gaining “respect”.