Boris Nemtsov was a prominent Russian opposition activist and leader, politically countering the ideals of Putin and the Russian government. However, on February 27, while Nemtsov was taking a nighttime stroll with his girlfriend on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, in the center of Moscow, he was fatally shot four times in the back. After over a week of investigation, five suspects arrived in a central Moscow court for the murder of Boris Nemstov. Two of these men were charged with murder while the other three, according to court spokeswoman Anna Fadayeva, are only suspects at this point. Nevertheless all five men are in custody and will be so until a resolution is reached or the truth is uncovered.
The two men charged with murder are Zaur Dadayev, deputy commander of the north interior ministry battalion in Chechnya, and his cousin Anzor Gubashev, worker of a private Moscow company. After both were arrested last Saturday in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, neighbor of Chechnya. They were taken into custody in a Moscow court. Soon after however, Dadayev admitted to his guilt, according to Judge Nataliya Mushnikova. Gubashev, though, continued to deny any involvement with the crime. Because there is no apparent motive for Gubashev and Dadayev committing the crime, investigators are uncertain who the true culprit is. Yet, in Chechnya, leader Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that being a devout Muslim, Dadayev was angry at those who defended the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and their “insulting” depiction of the Prophet Muhammed. Mr. Nemstov was one such defendant who condemned the murder of twelve magazine employees by Islamist militants. Nevertheless, close friends say he was more a critic of the Kremlin than of radical Islam. To compound the ambiguity, friends of Nemstov assert strongly that the assassination was a hit implemented by elite personnel in the government, particularly pro-Kremlin government workers seeking to silence any insurgents or dissenters. These friends believe that the Russian government does not countenance expression of any anti-Putin ideals and because Nemstov had been so zealous in his opposition efforts, he was killed. Daughter Zhanna Netsova amplifies the accusations by holding Vladmir Putin himself politically responsible for her father’s death. She had stated that because her father was, in the last decade, “the most prominent critic of the president…and the most powerful leader of the opposition in Russia” Putin and his allies had hoped to silence rebellion by killing the leader himself. Nemstova continued to deride the Russian government by stating “Officially, technically, Russian troops are not involved in the military conflict in Ukraine but what they actually do is that these soldiers resign from the army and then they go there by order.” These allegations have been strictly denied by the Russian government.
Dadayev declared he was forced into his confession to the killing. Three other men were also taken into custody in Ingushetia over suspicions of the murder: Gubashev’s brother, Shagid Gubashev; Ramsat Bakhayev; and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov. Moreover, a sixth suspect, Beslan Shavanov, killed himself with a grenade after throwing one at the police after being closed in in the Grozny, capital of Chechnya, on March 7. All of these men are from a region in northern Caucasus where Russia fought two heavy wars against Chechen rebels and where security forces still combat Islamic insurgents. Eva Merkacheva and Andrei Babushkin, members of a public oversight commission with exclusive access to prisoners to monitor conditions, corroborated Dadayev’s claim of coercion. Their report, after seeing Dadayev and Mr. Gubashev, described numerous injuries to Dadayev and declared that there was a “sufficient basis to suspect” that the suspects in custody were tortured. Dadayev then stated to the two human rights monitors: “The whole time they were yelling at me, ‘Did you kill Nemstov?’” He was allegedly shackled and cuffed for two days with nothing but beatings and a bag over his head, not even food or water or bathroom service. Although he did not admit guilt initially, the transcript exhibited that he later changed his statement as he was worried he “would be blown up like Mr. Shavanov.” Another incentive for Dadayev’s confession was a promise by the authorities to release a fellow officer who had been detained alongside Dadayev. The Gubashev brothers endured similar conditions as Anzor and Shagid had numerous injuries and abrasions on his legs, wrists, and nose. Shagid said, independent of Dadyev’s, that they had been beaten to admit to the guilt of the murder despite their innocence.
The Investigative Committee of Russia, aggravated at the release of these comments, lambasted the monitors Merkacheva and Babushkin. The Committee asserted that they had no permission to inquire about the Nemstov case, but to only view the prison and prisoner conditions to ascertain that all was humane. In response, Merkacheva stated they had not violated any rules because the officials in the prison had recorded their interviews with Dadayev and the Gubashev’s. Moreover, they were unable to ignore the prisoners’ claims that they were being beaten and forced to talk against their will. A secondary case examining the legality of the monitor’s actions is pending.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was subject to much pressure when reports emerged from various media sources that President Putin had a hit list of all anti-government activists and that the Kremlin had been told who was responsible for Nemstov’s murder. Peskov did not comment on this issue. EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, conversely defended Nemstov stating his actions defended the values that he shares with the EU. She indignantly accused the Russian authorities of failing to complete an untainted and transparent investigation of the murder and failing to cease the “climate of suspicion, hatred, and intolerance for the diversity of opinion.” Moreover, supporters of Nemstov, like Ilya Yashin, worry that because the governmental investigation will never be completed, political assassinations will continue. Other supporters continue to censure the government for neglecting the safety of its citizens because Nemstov contacted the Russian authorities after receiving death threats on his Facebook page last year. Hours before he was killed, Mr. Boris Nemstov had called for “honest elections” in Russia.