All remarks on the February 27 murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov beyond the simple fact of his death are by necessity a form of speculation. But there is speculation as fantasy and there is speculation based on observation, track-record, and criminal investigative themes such as motive and capability. Taking my background into account, I have a clear preference for the latter while the Kremlin and its media arm prefer far-fetched fantasy.
We do know that one of the most prominent and effective critics of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin was assassinated in sight of the Kremlin. We know Boris Nemtsov had prepared many reports that implicated Putin and his most powerful lieutenants and that he had just written a new report on the Russian forces in Ukraine that the Kremlin is desperate to cover up. It is worth pointing out the many holes in the official story about Nemtsov’s murder and highlight relevant details that implicate Russian state security services in coordinating the murder (who actually pulled the trigger is the least relevant element, as with most political assassinations).
First, the official story taking shape now, with the arrest of a group of Chechens (none of whom have confessed on the record despite “unnamed sources” claiming so) perfectly fits the storyline immediately proposed by Kremlin-controlled media in the hours after the murder. This is despite the early media mentions (also unsourced, of course) that Boris was shot from “the white car” used by the murderer, in infamous drive-by “Chechen style” – the white car that turned out to be a phantom. Even the supposed motive – Islamist rage for revenge for Nemtsov’s comments on the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and attacks – was immediately circulated in the Russian press despite its implausible nature. Never mind that Boris's comments were quite tepid and that the Russian government also condemned the attacks and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov personally marched in Paris.
Thanks to these unnamed sources the police investigation was misled into focusing on the mythical white car for over 24 hours, making no mention of the snow removal truck that plays a prominent role in the only video of the murder. A huge truck, big enough to represent a significant security threat, that stopped for over five minutes right next to the Kremlin, unmolested, providing cover for the exact moment of the murder. The official story pretends the appearance and movement of the truck is coincidental and irrelevant.
That is the only video of the moment of the murder that has been released, a distant and grainy one, and the investigation said there was nothing else as all the other cameras nearby were under repair. The source is an all-weather camera belonging to the Moscow City channel. But there was at least one other functioning camera, from Russia24, whose footage shows the scene two hours after the murder, from a different angle from the Moscow City video. The Russia24 video appears to begin right after the police finished washing down the murder scene. Somehow this video exists but the same camera’s footage from the murder itself a few hours earlier does not?
The prominent and exposed location of the murder, on a bridge in a heavily surveilled area next to the most secure place in Russia, only makes sense if the murder was intended to make a statement and if that location was under the control of the planners. In nearly any other location in Moscow, the risk of local police interfering would be high. (This is what led to the interruption of the intended 1999 apartment bombing in Ryazan. Then the uninformed local police stopped the FSB operation.) But the Kremlin perimeter is under tight and direct control of state security. Normally, especially at that late hour, a car moving slowly across that bridge would be enough to attract the attention of security. But on the night of Boris’s murder, the car that picked up the killer did exactly that. And Boris was under constant surveillance, personal and electronic, which I know from my own experience always intensifies before big opposition rallies, but apparently his watchdogs had that moment free. It’s also worth mentioning that it took the police 12 minutes to arrive on the scene.
Any murderer not under Kremlin protection would know that choosing this heavily monitored and open spot would be as good as surrendering to the police. Either this entire political assassination was coordinated very well by people able to control the Kremlin’s security apparatus and media propaganda, or it represents a staggering series of blunders and fantastic coincidences at the precise moment a very professional murder took place at a very unprofessional location.
Call it speculation, yes, but the classic aspects of a murder – “means, motive, and opportunity” – all point firmly in one direction. That the story immediately circulated by the Kremlin media has come true like a Chechen fairy tale is further evidence that while we may never know who exactly ordered Boris’s murder, we do know his address