Boris Nemtsov was shot at the very moment when preparations for another march in Moscow by the Russian opposition were in full swing. Despite serious economic problems in the country, a massive public turnout to the protest was not expected, in large measure because the opposition leaders themselves were showing no interest in the social problems faced by the majority of Russia's people. While neo-liberal opposition figures had not expressed direct support for the austerity measures introduced by the authorities, they had not condemned these measures either. At best, the oppositionists had declared that the cause of all the difficulties was President Putin, and that if it were not for him, the crisis would end immediately and of its own accord.
In this context, the murder committed on the evening of February 27 on the Great Moskvoretsky Bridge a few dozen meters from the Kremlin proved most opportune. So opportune, that many commentators began immediately to suspect that the opposition itself had organized it, so as to ensure a massive turnout for the protest march, transformed hastily into a mourning procession.
This, of course, is hardly to be believed. The scale of the provocation was too great for so limited and local a goal. Nevertheless, the revenge meted out to Nemtsov dealt an obvious blow to President Putin. The victim of the killing had not presented a serious threat to the authorities. Even within the protest movement Nemtsov had played secondary roles, and had not been at the center of events either organizationally or ideologically—unlike Aleksey Navalny, whose popularity in Moscow was increasing rapidly thanks to his anti-corruption campaigning, or former finance minister Aleksey Kudrin, who even after resigning had retained control over numerous government decisions through his associates. Russian bloggers with a taste for black humor noted ironically that Nemtsov had long been a political corpse, and that only death had restored him to political life. As a media personality, however, Nemtsov—a former governor of Nizhny Novgorod Province, a former deputy prime minister—unquestionably attracted interest. Those who ordered his murder undoubtedly acted on this basis.
As always in such cases, the crime swiftly became overgrown with a thicket of competing explanations, while rival political camps heaped accusations on one another. The opposition sought to prove that those to blame for Nemtsov’s murder were the authorities, who had either organized the killing directly, or who were morally responsible, having created an atmosphere of hatred in society. There is an element of truth in the latter charge, since political discussions in Russia long ago overstepped the bounds of democratic niceties. But this applies to supporters of the opposition no less, and even more, than to defenders of the present administration.
For their part, Kremlin supporters joined in voicing suspicions of a “bloody provocation by the opposition,” said to have demanded the carrying out of “a ritual sacrifice.” Some also claimed to see a “Ukrainian thread” in Nemtsov’s murder, referring to the strange role played by the politician’s companion, the Kiev model Anna Duritskaya, who was at the scene of the crime but emerged completely unhurt.