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Nemtsova: 'Putin is doing his best to make things worse'

Interview: Stefan DegeFebruary 12, 2016

Her father was Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in February 2015. Now Zhanna Nemtsova, who works for DW, launches a book in Germany, as she wants to "wake up Russia."

Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of assassinated Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, Copyright: Karlheinz Schindler
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Schindler

DW: Your father Boris Nemtsov, a leading Russian opposition politician, was shot and killed in broad daylight in Moscow almost one year ago, on February 27, 2105. Why do you think he was killed?

Zhanna Nemtsova: I think it was a politically motivated assassination. He was in the opposition for a long time. For the past two to three years, it had been very evident that all opposition leaders were under pressure. The pressure turned more violent, and resulted in this murder. The pressure on the opposition was widely supported by the authorities and by Russian TV propaganda - just to stop my father's political activities and to intimidate people.

Many people in Russia are intimidated right now, they are afraid to openly, publicly express their points of view. Some opposition leaders - we have only few - are on the "red list," as my father put it. Other leaders aren't frightened and they continue their activities. They are really brave and they deserve great respect for their courage.

Your book is entitled "Waking up Russia" [Ed. original German title: "Russland wachrütteln"]. What does Russia need to be awakened from?

It's actually something my father once said when he was up in the bell tower of a church. He started to ring the big bell, and said, "I want to wake up Russia."

A Boris Nemtsov memorial in Saint Petersburg in 2015
A Boris Nemtsov memorial in Saint Petersburg in 2015Image: picture alliance/Russian Look

I think the Russian government and authorities have chosen the wrong path. Their path leads to recession, to an economic crisis, to the deterioration of institutions and the infrastructure. Russia needs change, and it needs democratic change. We need to return to basic democratic human values. We shouldn't be aggressive towards other countries. We should focus on the problems we have in Russia.

The message is that, without a change in Russia's leadership, there will be no positive change in Russia. That's what people have to understand. Putin is not a Russian patriot. He's doing his best to make things worse. His strategy will lead to failure.

You describe Putin's Russia as a state "not based on law," but at the same time, the President is more popular than ever. How can that be?

He isn't really. In the year 2000, he was very popular: Almost 80 percent of the Russian population supported him. Back when he acted as a president, but wasn't yet elected, his approval ratings skyrocketed within just a few months. That shows that this support is highly volatile, that people don't have clear political preferences. This is a passive kind of support, it's not active, and Putin understands that. Only minorities are active in most countries and that's why he tries to put pressure on minorities rather than the passive majority.

Here's another reason for his high rate of approval: According to recent polls where people were asked whether they were afraid to openly express their views on the current political situation, 26 percent said "yes."

Also, we don't have a clear alternative to Putin.

Russian media reported extensively about the alleged rape of a 13-year-old Russian-German girl in Berlin. Is Putin waging a media war against Germany?

I was surprised when the media outlets controlled by Putin started to attack Germany. I don't think Russian-speaking people here in Germany - that's more than three million people - believe this propaganda. The German prosecutor is looking into the case of whether this Russian correspondent broke the law in Germany. It shows that when Russian propaganda touches on Germany, people are very supportive of restrictive action against propagandists. But when I said it was necessary to take action, people were very reluctant to support me.

You're currently working in Germany for DW. Has that changed your view of Russia?

No, my view of Russia was very clear. In Russia, I worked as a market commentator for a privately owned Russian broadcaster, sort of like a Russian Bloomberg. We covered financial markets and the world economy. Here at DW, I still report on economics but there are many other issues, which is a challenge - but my views haven't changed, they're the same views I had three years ago. I have a clear political orientation and political preferences.

Zhanna Nemtsova's book "Russland wachrütteln" is released in German.