6 Putin's murder plot backfires - Thousands in Moscow chant ‘Russia without Putin'
Tens of thousands of Russians marched through central Moscow
yesterday (1 March), carrying banners declaring "I am not afraid" and
chanting "Russia without Putin" in memory of murdered Kremlin critic
Families, the old and the young, walked slowly, with many holding
portraits of the opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister,
who was shot dead while walking home from a nearby restaurant on Friday
night.The authorities have suggested that the opposition itself may have
been behind his shooting in an attempt to create a martyr and unite the
His supporters have blamed the authorities.
"If we can stop the campaign of hate that's being directed at the
opposition, then we have a chance to change Russia. If not, then we face
the prospect of mass civil conflict," Gennady Gudkov, an opposition
leader, told Reuters.
"The authorities are corrupt and don't allow any threats to them to emerge. Boris was uncomfortable for them."
His murder has divided opinion in a country where for years,
following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many yearned for the
stability later brought by former KGB agent Vladimir Putin.
A small but active opposition now says Putin's rule has become an
autocracy that flaunts international norms after Russia seized Ukraine's
Crimea peninsula last year, fanned nationalism over the separatist war
in eastern Ukraine, and clamped down on dissent.
"[Nemtsov] was harmful to the authorities, but the authorities
themselves are criminal. The authorities have trampled on all
international rights, seized Crimea, started war with Ukraine," said
Yuri Voinov, an elderly physicist.
Police said 21,000 people attended the march. The organizers put the
numbers at tens of thousands, but attendance appeared smaller than the
50,000 people the opposition had hoped for.
Reuters reporters at the march estimated the numbers in the tens of thousands.
People walked in the rain within view of the Kremlin's red walls and
past the spot, now covered in flowers, where Nemtsov was shot dead.
Some carried large banners carrying Nemtsov's face reading "Heroes
Never Die", the same slogan used in Ukraine to celebrate more than 100
people killed in protests that overthrew Moscow-leaning President Viktor
Yanukovich a year ago.
One elderly woman, her hair tucked into a woolen cap, held up a
hand-written sign to cover her face: "It's a geopolitical catastrophe
when a KGB officer declares himself president for life. Putin resign!"
Putin remains dominant
Putin has vowed to pursue those who killed Nemtsov, calling the murder a "provocation".
National investigators who answer to the Russian leader offered a
3-million-rouble reward, around $50,000, for information on Nemtsov's
death. They say they are pursuing several lines of inquiry, including
the possibility that Nemtsov, a Jew, was killed by radical Islamists or
that the opposition killed him to blacken Putin's name.
Nemtsov's funeral is due to be held on Tuesday in Moscow.
Putin's opponents say such suggestions, repeated over pro-Kremlin
media, show the cynicism of Russia's leaders as they whip up
nationalism, hatred and anti-Western hysteria to rally support for his
policies on Ukraine and deflect blame for an economic crisis.
"We are told on TV that a conspiracy by the West and those among us
who have sold out to them are behind our poverty. People should throw
away the TV set and go to protest," said Olga, 42, who declined to give
her last name.
Some Muscovites have accepted the official line and appear to agree
that the opposition, struggling to make an impact after a clampdown on
dissent in Putin's third spell as president, might have killed one of
"The authorities definitely do not benefit from this. Everybody had
long forgotten about this man, Nemtsov ... It is definitely a
'provocation'," said one Moscow resident, who gave his name only as
Some young people walking in central Moscow asked: "Who is Nemtsov anyway?"
Nemtsov, who was 55, was one of the leading lights of a divided
opposition struggling to revive its fortunes, three years after mass
rallies against Putin failed to prevent him returning to the presidency
after four years as prime minister.
With an athletic build and characteristic mop of curly hair, Nemtsov
had been a face of the opposition for years, along with anti-corruption
blogger Alexei Navalny and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov,
though no one figure has succeeded in uniting the ranks of
The opposition has little support outside big cities and Putin has
now been Russia's dominant leader since 2000, when ailing President
Boris Yeltsin chose him as his successor, a role Nemtsov had once been
destined to play.
Even many of Putin's opponents have little doubt that he will win
another six years in power at the next election, due in 2018, despite a
financial crisis aggravated by Western economic sanctions over the
Ukraine crisis and a fall in oil prices.
Many opposition leaders have been jailed on what they say are trumped-up charges, or have fled the country.
Nemtsov, a fighter against corruption who said he feared Putin may
want him dead, had hoped to start the opposition's revival with a march
he had been planning for Sunday against Putin's economic policies and
Russia's role in east Ukraine.
The Kremlin denies sending arms or troops to Ukraine.
In a change of plan, the opposition said Moscow city authorities had
allowed a march of up to 50,000 people alongside the River Moskva to
commemorate Nemtsov's death.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Nemtsov had told him about
two weeks ago that he planned to publish evidence of Russian involvement
in Ukraine's separatist conflict.