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Opinion: assassination of Boris Nemtsov still not solved

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Ingo Mannteufel
June 29, 2017

A number of important questions about the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov remain unanswered, even after a guilty verdict was handed down against five accused perpetrators, says Ingo Mannteufel.

Russland Gedenken an Boris Nemzow
Image: Reuters/T. Makeyeva

After several days of deliberation, a jury appeared before a military court in Moscow to announce that it had found the five defendants guilty, in the case of Russian politician, Boris Nemtsov's murder.

The majority of jurors were convinced that the Chechen defendant, Zaur Dadayev, had shot Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a bridge near the Kremlin on February 27, 2015.

Dadayev's four co-defendants, also Chechens, aided him in the assassination by driving the getaway car and hiding him, amongst other things. Even though all five men proclaimed their innocence, evidence presented by the prosecution would seem to suggest that these were in fact the men responsible for Nemtsov's murder. The judge will hand down his sentence next week. So far, so good.

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DW's Ingo Mannteufel

Who contracted the killing and why?

Yet when it came to thoroughly investigating the politically sensitive issue of who was behind the murder of one of President Vladimir Putin's leading critics, the court and the prosecution did not take matters any further. This was despite the fact that investigators declared that Nemtsov's murder had been contracted, and that the defendants supposedly received 15 million rubles (220,000 euros).

Nevertheless, the prosecution failed to pursue the truth as to who was actually behind the killing and what their motive may have been. That was the most deeply unsettling aspect of the entire trial. Although, in light of similar previous cases, it was, unfortunately, to be expected.

The circumstances surrounding this contracted political assassination offer a chilling glimpse into the dark depths of the power system that Vladimir Putin has built up around himself: The main perpetrator, Zaur Dadayev, was a high-ranking officer in the Chechen Sever (North) battalion, which is led by a close confident of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and formally belongs to the troops of the Russian interior ministry.

Moreover, there is evidence that the Moscow apartment the perpetrators used to plan the attack belonged to, or was rented by, another officer of the same Chechen battalion. Those connections alone would seem to have dictated the necessity of putting high-ranking officers from the Chechen battalion, the Russian interior ministry or even Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov himself on the witness stand.

But the prosecution declined to do so. Their actions can only mean one thing: The powers that be in today's Russia do not want to see a comprehensive investigation that gets to the bottom of the killing.

Kremlin wants to let dust settle over the whole affair

As was the case with other political assassinations in Russia – such as that of journalist Anna Politkovskaya –  one can only assume that the Kremlin hopes that by convicting the five perpetrators, interest in the case will die down, and no one will dare ask any more questions about who may have paid the men to make the hit. And it must be said that in Putin's Russia, it seems likely that the plan will work – for now.

But people will not forget Boris Nemtsov's murder. He touched the hearts of far too many liberal-minded Russians for that to happen. Nonetheless, the case will remain unsolved until the day that Russia becomes a free and democratic country governed by the rule of law.


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Boris Nemtsov supporters march through Moscow

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Ingo Mannteufel Head of IT and Cybersecurity@mannteufel