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Opinion

Opinion: When the truth is a casualty

Following the murder of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, the Russian state wasted no time beginning a campaign to obscure the truth, according to DW’s Ingo Mannteufel.

The murder of staunch Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday and the march in his memory through downtown Moscow on Sunday were the main media topics over the weekend, and Russian media were no exception.

This politically motivated attack is, without doubt, a tragic and significant event in recent Russian history. It was also interesting to observe how the Kremlin and Russia's state-controlled media began churning out the usual disinformation in an attempt to obscure the facts.

Information overload

Normally, Russia's state-controlled media remain silent about events involving criticism of President Vladimir Putin. That most likely would have been the case for the opposition march that was actually planned to take place on Sunday. But there was no way to avoid reporting about the murder of a leading opposition politician on a bridge in full view of the Kremlin. Nemtsov was an internationally known figure from his years serving as deputy prime minister in the 1990s. But it would be wrong to speak of any independent reporting - quite the opposite. Instead, the reporting highlighted the skill with which the Kremlin manipulates the media, and in turn, the Russian people.

Ingo Mannteufel

DW's Ingo Mannteufel

Shortly after Nemtsov was killed, the Russian president issued guidelines to the media. He explained that the murder of his critic was a "provocation" aimed at destabilizing the country. Putin made it clear that he himself was actually the target and the victim of the attack - not Nemtsov. It followed that the state prosecution and the Russian media pointed the finger of blame at those who oppose Putin: "the Americans," "the Ukrainians," "the Islamists," and any other groups seen as a threat to Russia's national security.

In reporting on the possibility of an Islamist background to the attack, the Russian media seized the opportunity to emphasize that Nemtsov was Jewish. Given the widespread anti-Semitism in Russia, the effect of such information in relation to the murder was evident: to wipe out any sympathy for the 55-year-old victim who, in addition, was in the company of his Ukrainian (!) girlfriend. For all those comrades who remain skeptical of the usual conspiracy theories circulating in Russia, the media made sure to mention Nemtsov's alleged involvement in dodgy real estate dealings.

Important questions swept aside

The extensive reporting by the Russian media was not aimed at finding truth, but rather obfuscation. The responsibility of the Russian government, which has for years used the media to slander its opponents, was not a topic up for discussion. Nor was the question of why, right at the time of the murder, all the surveillance cameras around the Kremlin were either switched off, broken, or being repaired.

With all the talk in the media concerning Nemtsov's murder, the truth is being drowned out. Boris Nemtsov himself would hardly have been surprised.

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