The February 2015 Assassination of Boris Nemtsov and the Flawed Trial of His Alleged Killers: An Exploration of Russia’s “Crime of the 21st Century”
The Man Who Was Too Free
Last November The Economist took President Trump to task for dismissing the probable involvement of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi: “Mr. Trump’s glossing over the murder of a peaceful critic is an alarming departure for America…. Previous presidents have sought to balance moral values and national interests.”
Trump has been equally dismissive regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged sponsorship of political murders, saying in December 2015: “Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone…. He’s always denied it.” And in October 2018, after being pressed into finally admitting that Putin was “probably” involved in political assassinations, Trump added a caveat: “It’s not in our country.”
Trump’s reactions are part of his established pattern of excusing the Kremlin’s misdeeds. But his reluctance to address Russia’s political murders is not a sharp departure from past presidents’ responses. After President George W. Bush asked Putin about the October 2006 killing of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya in a telephone call just a few days after it occurred, he was apparently reassured by Putin’s promise that there would be a thorough investigation (there never was one). Despite the fact that only weeks later the exiled Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko announced on his London deathbed that he had been poisoned by Putin, Bush welcomed Putin at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, the following summer, so that the two could “work on their personal relationship” and enjoy a ride in Bush’s speedboat.
President Obama’s response to the most shocking of all Russian political murders, the February 27, 2015, shooting of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was also muted. Although he immediately condemned the crime and called on the Russian government to conduct an impartial, prompt, and transparent investigation, Obama did not follow up on a Senate resolution introduced on March 4, 2015, by John McCain and Lindsey Graham urging him to seek a United Nations Security Council resolution that would establish an independent investigation into the assassination. (It eventually died in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.)
Now, four years later, John Dunlop’s remarkable investigation has shed new light on the Nemtsov assassination, although he cautions that “there remains much that needs to be learned concerning how the crime was committed.” Dunlop calls it the “Russian crime of the twenty-first century.” Not only was Nemtsov brazenly shot to death at the Kremlin’s doorstep; as the Russian documentary films Nemtsov and The Man Who Was Too Free make clear, he had a huge influence on Russian politics for two and a half decades. In the words of a former Nemtsov colleague: “He was like some sort of meteorite…. He soared, lit everything up—and then he was gone.”
Born in Sochi in 1959, Nemtsov grew up in Gorky (renamed…
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