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'Nemtsov criticized Russia's involvement in Ukraine'

Interview: Manasi GopalakrishnanFebruary 28, 2015

Boris Nemtsov, 55-year-old former deputy prime minister and Putin critic, was shot dead in Moscow, days before an opposition rally. DW spoke to Russia analyst Yury Barmin about Nemtsov's significance.

Oppositionspolitiker Boris Nemtsov Nemzow
Boris Nemtsov in 2011Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: Why is Nemtsov's murder causing such a stir?

Yury Barmin: Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Putin and Russia's alleged involvement in the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The murder is causing a stir because Nemtsov was one of the organizers of a protest rally that is to take place in Moscow on March 1. The opposition was quick to suggest that there is a connection between the two.

Who was Nemtsov? What made him so important after all these years?

Nemtsov had a bright political career. In the 1990s, he served as President Yeltsin's envoy in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. He later served as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region and then as the deputy prime minister of the government. So during Russia's most liberal years, he was a prominent political figure and an advocate of the withdrawal of Russia's troops from Chechnya during the First Chechen War.

Under Putin, Nemtsov was a deputy in the Russian Parliament and a member of the liberal opposition. Nemtsov had recently begun publishing reports and articles about corruption in Russia.

Was Nemtsov a threat to Putin?

I don't think he was a threat to Putin, at least he was not perceived as such. He is certainly a prominent opposition figure in Russia, but politically he was not a threat to Putin. Ilya Yashin, a liberal politician and a friend of Nemtsov's, claimed that he was going to publish a report on Russia's involvement in Ukraine and quite logically, there was a version that he was murdered to prevent him from publishing this report.

Russia expert Yury Barmin
Barmin: Nemtsov was not perceived as a threat to PutinImage: privat / Nemzow

Why did Putin's spokesman call Nemtsov's murder a "provocation" and what does it have to do with the opposition rally at the weekend?

The rally, scheduled to take place on March 1, is being labeled as an anti-crisis (economic crisis) protest. There are rumors that some of the organizers want to label it as a political rally, to demand political change in the country. So there is a rivalry between these two groups within the opposition who want to see people protest for slightly different causes. Some pro-Kremlin bloggers have suggested that Nemtsov's murder is a way to change the tone of the March 1 rally. So Putin's spokesperson likely meant that the murder was a provocation against the rally. And of course, the Kremlin wants to refute any rumors about the government's connection to the murder.

Were any other opposition leaders killed in a similar manner?

Off the top of my head, Vlad Listiev, a prominent Russian journalist and head of Channel 1, was murdered 20 years ago. In fact, it happened on March 1, 1995, almost exactly 20 years ago. He was not exactly an opposition leader, but an influential person - that's for sure.

Were there any hints that Nemtsov was involved with the mafia?

I don't know of any such hints. Of course Nemtsov, like any other politician, had political rivals who could have tried to blacken his reputation by connecting him to mafia, but I believe these would have been just rumors.

Yury Barmin is a political analyst on Russian affairs based in Abu Dhabi. Follow him on Twitter under @yurybarmin.