Prominent Putin critic gunned down in Moscow

Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov was assassinated on a bridge in Moscow not far from the Kremlin. Authorities say seven or eight shots were fired at the opposition leader from a car.

Nemtsov was going to lead a massive opposition rally set for tomorrow.

Washington Post:

Nemtsov, a physicist-turned-politician who was seen in the 1990s as a possible heir to President Boris Yeltsin, was one of the loudest voices condemning Russia’s sharp turn toward confrontation with the West in the past year. The killing sent immediate shock waves through Russia, where he became the highest-profile opposition leader to be slain in a nation where such figures are sometimes imprisoned or pushed to emigrate.

There was no immediate information on who killed the 55-year-old politician as he walked across a central Moscow bridge shortly before midnight on an unusually warm winter’s night. Putin said it bore the marks of a contract killing intended to embarrass the Kremlin, a spokesman said. Opposition leaders said they were sure that it was an attempt to intimidate them.

The killing was a dramatic and bloody turn for Russia’s oppressed opposition movement, which has struggled to find its footing during a wave of nationalistic fervor unleashed by the annexation of Ukraine’s semi­autonomous Crimean region last year. Many leaders have been marginalized with prison terms or other forms of harassment, and public rhetoric has grown extremely aggressive toward those who deviate from the majority line.

The shooting came a day before a rally at which opposition leaders had been hoping to breathe fresh life into their cause. Nemtsov was one of the main organizers.

Politically motivated slayings are not unknown in Russia, but not once in the 24 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union has such a high-profile figure been the victim. Shaken opposition leaders said in the hours after Nemtsov’s slaying that they were newly fearful, but they vowed to carry on. It was not immediately clear whether they would hold the rally on Sunday.

Putin's condemnation of Nemtsov's murder is the same kind of thing he said after numerous other opposition members, journalists, and artists ended up dead. It's a cruel joke at which no one is laughing. But it probably won't put a dent in the Russian dictator's popularity, as his actions in Crimea and Ukraine are seen by the people as sticking it to NATO and the west. The Russian people are suffering from a massive inferiority complex and Putin has tapped into the huge resentment against the United States and its European allies, feeding it with dreams of nationalist glory and revenge.

As for the opposition, Putin is playing Stalin's game; kill enough people who disagree with you and most of the population will become pliant and complacent. It's a terror campaign designed to intimidate people into silence. It's worked in the past and there's no reason to think it won't work this time.

With no free media, demonstrations outlawed, and the opposition cowed and fearful, it will take some kind of disaster - economic meltdown,  war with the west - to dislodge Putin from his unchallenged perch of power.


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