Kremlin-aligned media outlets were quick to deflect blame for the murder of Boris Nemtsov, a leading figure in the Russian opposition, from Vladimir Putin and his allies, claiming that killing Nemtsov does not benefit Putin and presenting other possible alternative explanations for the murder.
Nemtsov, Russia’s former deputy prime minister and an outspoken critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was murdered February 27 on Moskvoretskiy Bridge, approximately 200 meters away from the Kremlin.
RIA Novosti quoted the Communist parliamentarian Valeriy Rashkin as speculating that Nemtsov’s personal relationships and financial issues or the "fascist junta" in Ukraine could be responsible for the murder. "Before such mass actions [of protest planned for March 1]," he added, "opponents are always cherished and protected, not to raise the prestige of the opposition group."
Vladimir Markin, the Investigative Committee spokesman, said that Nemtsov had received threats related to his position on the Charlie Hebdo attacks and suggested Russia’s "enemies" could have been responsible for Nemtsov’s murder.
"Currently, the investigation is considering several versions of [Nemtsov’s] murder: murder as a provocation to destabilize the political situation in the country, and the figure Nemtsov could become a kind of a sacred sacrifice for those who do not disdain use of any methods to achieve their political goals," he said.
Sergei Obukhov, another Communist parliamentarian, said that it is important not to speculate about who is responsible for Nemtsov’s murder and emphasized that, contrary to statements from Western leaders, his murder should not be viewed as an event that will critically change the course of events in Russia.
Another report reviewed headlines in the Western press reporting on Nemtsov’s murder and concluded that the West is biased against the Russian government and Putin in particular: "The overwhelming majority blame the Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin personally. On the whole, the personalization of what is happening is characteristic of the information war of the West against Russia."
Nemtsov was walking home with a female companion after giving a live radio interview for the liberal Echo Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) when he was murdered. According to press reports, a gunman shot Nemtsov in the back at least six times from an open window of a white car.
Nemtsov was known for his anti-corruption advocacy and was said to be ready to unveil what he claimed was further evidence of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine shortly before he was killed.
Nemtsov called for ending the war in Ukraine and free elections in Russia in his last interview. He also called on Muscovites to join an anti-war rally scheduled for Sunday, March 1st.
Instead of attending the antiwar rally, over 50,0000 came out in Moscow to mourn Nemtsov’s death, according to reports by Echo Moskvy and Dozhd. Protesters chanted "Russia without Putin," and carried banners that declared "I am not afraid." Flowers are covering the spot on the Moskvoretsky Bridge where Nemtsov was killed.
Putin condemned Nemtsov’s murder and offered condolences to his family.
He said the murder carried a mark of a "contract killing," called it a "provocation," and promised Nemtsov’s mother to find the murderer. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Nemtsov posed no threat to Putin’s regime because the liberal opposition does not pose a serious threat to the current government.
Gazeta.ru reported that Latvia’s former primier Andrius Kubilius said that Nemtsov had looked into emigrating to Latvia in 2012. According to Kubilius, Nemtsov was concerned that he could be jailed for partaking in anti-Putin protests. Nemtsov said he feared Putin could kill him because of his position on Ukraine, according to a report by the BBC.
Nemtsov served as the governor in the 1990s of one of Russia's largest cities, Nizhny Novgorod, where he implemented free-market economic reforms. President Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratically elected president, later appointed Nemtsov as deputy prime minister.
Some had speculated that Nemtsov was poised for Russia’s presidency before Putin assumed that position in 2000 and Nemtsov went into opposition.