What is it about prominent critics of Vladimir Putin and ending up dead?
Just to name a few, there’s Anna Politkovskaya,
Viktor Yushchenko**, and Sergei Yushenkhov.* Now, we can add former deputy prime minister, opposition party leader, and liberal (in the old sense) Boris Nemtsov. Just one days before a opposition rally is scheduled to take place, he was shot four times from a passing car while he was taking a walk. Fox News gives an excellent breakdown of Nemtsov’s activities that would make him a prime target for assassination:
A sharp critic of Putin, Nemtsov assailed the government’s inefficiency, rampant corruption and the Kremlin’s policy on Ukraine, which has strained Russia-West ties to a degree unseen since Cold War times. The Washington Post reported that Nemtsov had angered Putin’s government two years ago when he charged that billions of dollars had been stolen from funds designated for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, his hometown.
As the article also notes, Putin will be personally overseeing the probe into his death, so we have even less reason to expect a fair investigation than if the matter had just been left up to the Russian police and courts.
It’s also important to note, as the BBC does, that in his final tweet, Nemtsov appealed to all of the opposition parties in Russia, which are a very divided bunch, to unite in an anti-war march–the rally he was set to attend on Sunday. As Putin continues his war in Ukraine, it’s important to note what tends to happen to his domestic critics. We don’t have a “smoking gun” linking Putin to this yet, but Nemtsov’s fate is, as I explained earlier, suspiciously similar to those of numerous other Putin adversaries.
President Obama’s strategy thus far has been trying to pressure the Russian oligarchs in hopes that they will pressure Putin. Unfortunately, Putin’s been pushing the oligarchs out of his inner circle, and as incidents like this illustrate, those who cross Putin don’t tend to have long life expectancies. Right now, Russia is in the middle of some tough times economically, so it’s definitely possible–even probable–that Putin will be trying to reassert his control over the country, meaning he won’t be feeling terribly tolerant of dissenters.
And based on our current President’s history, we shouldn’t expect that we’ll be doing much of significance about it, whether we want to or not.
*=The blog La Russophobe has an excellent list of the fates of various Putin critics. The ones that don’t end up dead tend to end up in prison.
**=Thanks to commenter Will Stauff for pointing out that Yushchenko did, in fact, survive being poisoned with dioxin. Still, there are many other Putin critics who have died under questionable circumstances.