Yours truly has been more active lately on Twitter than his blog, even though I am on record saying Twitter is dumb. Mea culpa. So I want to get a post on the books for February.
The murder of Russian liberal "reformer" Boris Nemtsov seems like a good thing to comment on in more than 140 characters.
Most of you will never see the snarky left's or the conspiratorial right's comments to knock the deceased Nemtsov down, may he RIP. I'm here to tell you that you should know they are out there.
They're saying or going to say he was a Yelstin-era fake "reformer" who didn't always walk the talk. True. They'll say he was probably involved in corruption and lining his own pockets as governor of Nizhny Novgorod and as a Duma state deputy. Also probably true. They're saying he was a known womanizer. True. They're saying he supported Putin back in 2000. True. And he even seemed to backtrack on Ukraine after the fire and fighting in Odesa last year. True.
But everything is relative. I'm a liberal, so I can say that and not risk crucifixion.
Relatively speaking, Nemtsov was a Russian liberal. And he was brave by anyone's standards. He exposed the collossal corruption of the Sochi Olympics where literally billions of dollars were transferred to Putin's cronies to run the winter games in a sub-tropical, 3rd-tier resort city. The night he was gunned down on the street he gave an outspoken radio interview on independent Echo of Moscow. He called Putin a despot and a murderer. He called for Putin's regime to be taken down, democratically, but also certainly by using massive street protests and community organizing.
He went to Ukraine in 2004 during the Orange Revolution and said he "envied" Ukrainians for what they were doing there, demanding political change and free and fair elections. (I know, I was there and heard it with my own ears, to roaring cheers from the Ukrainian crowd.) He came and said much the same thing during the Maidan Revolution in 2013-14.
Relatively speaking, and not just relative to other Russians, Nemtsov was braver than you or I or 99 percent of the people in the world, because he was a direct critic of the absolute ruler of a country where he lived that was known to jail and murder dissidents with impunity.
He wasn't afraid to stand with strange bedfellows in favor of democracy. He stood with Marxist thug and faux intellectual Eduard Limonov (who had the gall to cast aspersions on Nemtsov immediately after his death, calling him a skirt-chaser and "not innocent".) He stood with Russian chess grand master and dissident Gary Kasparov. Nemtsov, it seemed, was ready to stand with anybody -- or with nobody at all, as one person remembered, seeing him picket alone on the street at a sparsely attended rally -- who was against the current non-democratic Putin regime.
Personally, I believe Putin ordered the hit on Nemtsov. Now was an opportune time. Only the West would care about Nemtsov's murder, not some 80 percent of Russians, and Putin is already in the West's doghouse. Western economic sanctions against Russia won't get any worse for this. The West would fall on its knees in gratitude if only Putin would seem to observe the unjust ceasefire agreement in Minsk II and keep a "frozen conflict" in the Donbas and occupied Crimea. Western leaders are hardly going to make Nemtsov's killing an issue (an "internal Russian problem") when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine -- and perhaps the entire post-Cold War order -- are on the line. So I suspect that this was just a timely moment for Putin to cross an old enemy off his list. KGB guys do that kind of thing.
Others say it was fanatics who were motivated by Russian state propaganda-media to kill the "traitorous" Nemtsov who represented the Western "Fifth Column" in Russia. That's possible. But the fact that this happened meters away from the Kremlin, one of the most heavily-policed and surveiled places on Earth, makes me suspicious. Whoever did this was either crazy/reckless, or pretty sure they wouldn't be caught. The killers also left Nemtsov's female companion alive while managing to put four bullets into him. Would somebody worried about getting caught leave an eyewitness alive?
It's not inconceivable, however, that the "real killers" will be caught (I mean betrayed by their mafia dons). There was camera footage, apparently. Not surprisingly, since it was right by the Kremlin. But these killers will never tell the truth, even if they were indeed put up to it by the Kremlin. That's just the way things happen in despotic regimes. Witnesses can be made to appear -- or disappear -- and the guilty may be innocent or they may be guilty but not necessarily of the crimes for which they were charged....
(In a classic example of Putin-era propaganda, where the goal is not to advance a lie (an alternative version of events) but to make the truth unknowable, already the Kremlin is advancing at least three different fictional scenarios of Nemtsov's killing, while Putin's chosen henchman/ruler in Chechnya has come right out and said it was Western spies who killed Nemtsov to make Putin look bad.)
As with so much involving Russia, a mysterious violent event begets conspiracy theories because we know that virtually all decisions are made by a cabal of corrupt Kremlin insiders; therefore it's hard to believe that anything happens without their say-so. In a way, this attitude even augments the Kremlin's power, while giving them plausible deniability.
Time will tell, I hope, and reveal more facts, but it's likely that we'll never know the real truth. All is speculation except that an outspoken critic of the ruler has been murdered in public, steps from the ruler's palace. Even if Putin didn't order this killing, it serves his purposes: it augments fear of him among his opponents, and bolsters the brazenness of his cronies. In the end it doesn't really matter who pulled the trigger, argued Gary Kasparov: Putin is responsible. That's what today's sober analysts and future historians will say.