Thousands march in memory of Nemtsov

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[No specific word on any investigation. "His death has shocked people both inside and outside the Kremlin. People realise it’s a watershed moment." See also We Think of Nemtsov. *RON*]

Kathrin Hille & Guy Chazan, Financial Times, 1 March 2015

Russians carry portraits of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov as they march through the streets of Moscow on Sunday ©AP
Thousands of people marched through the centre of Moscow on Sunday in memory of Boris Nemtsov, the veteran Kremlin critic who was shot dead on Friday in one of the most shocking political assassinations of the Putin era.

People carrying portraits of the charismatic opposition leader and waving Russian flags moved in a sombre procession towards the spot where he was murdered on Friday while walking home from a restaurant a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.

Florists at all nearby metro stations sold out of their stock, as people bought tributes to lay at the site, on Moskvoretsky Bridge. Many marchers held placards saying “I am not afraid”.

President Vladimir Putin has vowed to pursue those responsible for Mr Nemtsov’s killing, which he called a “provocation”.

The politician’s murder has demoralised an anti-Kremlin opposition already weakened by Moscow’s crackdown on dissent and the big jump in Mr Putin’s approval ratings following Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year.

Moscow was awash with conspiracy theories about who could have killed Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who came to prominence in the mid-1990s as one of the so-called “young reformers” and was touted as a potential successor to Russia’s first democratically elected president, Boris Yeltsin.

While government critics pointed the finger at Mr Putin, officials, pro-Kremlin politicians and state media portrayed the killing as an attempt to destabilise Russia and floated the idea that the west was behind it.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was pursuing several lines of inquiry, including the possibility that Nemtsov had been killed by Islamist extremists.

A spokesman, Vladimir Markin, also implied that he was killed by the opposition itself. The murder, he said, could have been a “provocation aimed at destabilising the political situation in Russia”. “Nemtsov might have been a strange kind of sacrificial victim for those who stop at nothing to achieve their political aims”.

Finally, he said, investigators were also examining a possible connection to the crisis in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country have been fighting government troops in a war that has cost more than 5,000 lives.

But those in the anti-Kremlin camp put the blame squarely on Mr Putin. Grigory Yavlinsky, another veteran liberal politician, wrote in his blog: “The political responsibility for the crime lies on the authorities and personally on Vladimir Putin, who launched the war, continues it and runs a propaganda campaign of hatred in support of this war.”

Nemtsov, who was known for his detailed reports on official corruption in Russia — particularly in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi — had been investigating claims that Russian soldiers were fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine — claims the Russian government has consistently denied.

People taking part in Sunday’s march held black-framed placards with the words: “Propaganda kills”, “Boris, I’m not afraid,” “They killed you, they are killing freedom” and “I have no words”.

The marchers appeared to be a broad cross section of Russian society, and the average age was higher than at other anti-Putin protests.

“I am proud that I’m here today,” said Pyotr, a 60-year-old man who would only give his first name. “I have never been to a demonstration before, except for those marches we had to attend in the Soviet Union. My daughter used to go a lot three years ago and I always thought it was too dangerous.”

The small streets close to the Kremlin were packed with marchers, and the entrances to one of the main metro stations in the area were closed as pressure built up on the city’s transport network.

Gennady Gudkov, a former member of parliament who is a leading critic of Mr Putin, said: “His death has shocked people both inside and outside the Kremlin. People realise it’s a watershed moment.”

A few marchers shouted “Russia will be free”, a chant that had been popular during the mass anti-Putin rallies of 2011-12 triggered by allegations of vote-rigging in the 2011 parliamentary elections. But the chanting quickly died down.