The atmosphere of hate in which Boris Nemtsov was murdered

Michael Weiss writes: “We need to talk about Magnitsky.”

The last time I saw Boris Nemtsov, in Tallinn, Estonia in 2013, he had wanted to find a way to tack on more Putin regime officials to a U.S. law that would ban them from entering the country or freeze whatever assets they held here. The former first deputy prime minister of Russia, who was brutally shot to death within eyeshot of the Kremlin this evening, had many enemies, not least of them the president of Russia. He was handsome, charismatic and popular in the West and in Eastern Europe. “First we liberate Belarus, and then Russia!” former Belarusian presidential candidate, dissident and Lukashenko torture victim Andrei Sannikov told him on that same occasion. Nemtsov joyfully agreed. On Sunday he had planned to lead a march against Vladimir Putin’s unacknowledged dirty war in Ukraine. He was shot repeatedly in the back by several assailants emerging from a car while he walking down the Moskvoretskiy bridge with Anna Durickaya, a Ukrainian model.

Two years ago, Nemtsov and his colleague Leonid Martynyuk released a report titled, “Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi,” which alleged that Putin had personally overseen the enormous, profligate project and was therefore responsible for the estimated $26 billion frittered away in “embezzlement and kickbacks.” They named names. Nemtsov, who was born in Sochi, and Martynyuk debunked the myth peddled by the Kremlin that the bulk of the costs for the Olympics was borne by private investors, showing that actually only two — aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and nickel magnate Vladimir Potanin — were the private financiers of the world’s most expensive Winter Games.

Moreover, they showed how brothers Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, childhood friends of Putin, were awarded 15 percent of the money controlled by Olimpstroy, the state company created to finance the Olympics; and that the bulk of this percentage was spent in awarding no-bid sweetheart contracts. They also suggested that Vladimir Yakunin, the chairman of the state-owned Russian Railroads, who along with Putin helped found the St. Petersburg Ozero Dacha Cooperative, commanded 20 percent of the Olympstroy budget and then purchased property which, according to his official declared income, he simply could not afford.

“Putin is part of a mafia,” Nemtsov told me and my colleague Olga Khvostunova, in an interview about his report. “They do not turn in their own. He gave his friends an opportunity ‘to earn some cash.’” [Continue reading…]

Joshua Yaffa writes: Without knowing who gave the orders, it’s possible to understand that the current political environment allowed for this to happen. Over the past year, in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, Russia has seen the rise of a new, much coarser and more doctrinaire political language. During the first decade of Putin’s rule, the Kremlin depicted its opponents as freaks or idiots, but now they are portrayed as outright enemies of their country. In a triumphant address to parliament last March, as Russia was formalizing its takeover of Crimea, Putin warned of “a fifth column,” a “disparate bunch of national traitors” determined to sow discord inside the country. Its members were obvious, if at first unmentioned: people like Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who had become the most popular leader in the country’s fractured opposition; Aleksei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow, a long-beleaguered radio station that is one of the last homes for critical and liberal voices; and of course Nemtsov, a recognizable face​from all his years in politics, and a favorite opponent of pro-Kremlin activists and propagandists.

It wasn’t long before the political technologists in the Kremlin and those who do their bidding in the media — whether at state-run television channels with national reach or on pro-Kremlin Web sites that publish memes and jokes disparaging the West and Russia’s small number of liberals — seized on the idea, releasing pseudo-documentaries on the evils of the fifth column and designing graphics that surrounded their disembodied heads with images of space aliens. For a while, a giant poster hung on the side of Moscow’s main bookstore with the face of Nemtsov, among others. “The fifth column: there are strangers among us,” it read. The most apocalyptic and vile of Russia’s television hosts, Dmitri Kiselyov, a man who once warned that Russia could turn the United States into “radioactive ash,” took pleasure in naming and insulting members of the so-called “fifth column.” “Putin legalized that term in the political language of Russia,” he said. “We know their names.”

That act of legalization, as Kiselyov aptly put it, means any number of people or factions could have murdered Nemtsov. In an interview two weeks ago, Nemtsov admitted that he was afraid Putin could have him killed, but “not that much.” In the hours after Nemtsov’s death, Vladimir Ryzhkov, a co-founder of R.P.R.-PARNAS with Nemtsov, told Echo of Moscow that he blamed “the atmosphere of hate that was artificially created” by the state and its supporters. Putin, for his part, called the killing a “provocation,” and said that he would personally oversee the investigation, evoking Stalin’s oversight of the prosecution of Sergei Kirov’s supposed killers in 1934. Will Nemtsov’s death similarly presage a wave of political purges? In the current climate, almost anything seems possible. Either the authorities would kill someone who poses little real political danger, or they have given rise to a venomous hatred that they can no longer control.

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