Opposition rally turns to march of grief after Putin critic Boris Nemtsov’s death – CNN International
Moscow (CNN)This was going to be a rally led by Boris Nemtsov, had he lived two more days to see it.
But after the Russian opposition figure was gunned down Friday night, Sunday’s rally in Moscow will take on a different theme. Instead of criticizing Russia’s policies on Ukraine, well over 1,000 people will gather to mourn the death of the former deputy prime minister.
And as they march near the site of Nemtsov’s death, conspiracy theories swirl over who killed the 55-year-old outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin as he walked near the Kremlin with his Ukrainian model companion.
An about face
Russian authorities originally declined to issue a permit for the march when it was billed as an opposition rally. But they will allow the procession honoring Nemtsov on Sunday afternoon, People’s Freedom Party leader Mikhail Kasyanov said.
Moscow police said they would tighten security for the march, with up to 50,000 participants allowed to take part.
Nemtsov was walking with a companion, Anna Duritskaya, 23, at the time of the shooting. A political colleague and friend of Nemtsov’s, Ilya Yashin, said Duritskaya called him and told him that just before midnight a car with “several men” pulled up and someone in the car then opened fire on Nemtsov.
Investigators interviewed Duritskaya on details surrounding the shooting. She was not wounded.
Searching for the killer
Putin quickly condemned the killing and ordered three law enforcement agencies to investigate the shooting, Russia’s official Tass news agency reported.
The President also wrote to Nemtsov’s mother saying he shared her grief and promising to bring those behind the killing to justice, according to the Kremlin website.
But some of Nemtsov’s fellow critics suspect involvement by either Putin’s administration or a supporter of the President.
“It’s clearly a political murder. It’s definitely a contract one,” opposition leader Ilya Yashin said. “I don’t know who killed Boris, but I know that it’s the government and personally Putin who are responsible for it. They’ve been constantly promoting a hatred towards everyone who doesn’t support their course and thinks different.”
It’s something even Nemtsov himself had said he had thought about, acknowledging in an interview with Russian newspaper Sobesednik this month that he was “a little bit” afraid his mother’s fears Putin would have him killed would come true.
But, he added, “I’m not afraid of him that much. If I was afraid I wouldn’t be heading an opposition party and do what I’m doing.”
Consequences for criticism
Critics of Putin have in the past suffered miserable fates.
Last year, a Moscow court sentenced five men to prison for the 2006 killing of Russian journalist and fierce Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya.
Business magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky accused Putin of corruption and spent 10 years in prison and labor camps.
Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko accused state security services of organizing a coup to put Putin in power. He was poisoned by a lethal dose of radioactive polonium and died in London in 2006. No killer has been caught.
And before his death, Nemtsov had been arrested several times for speaking against Putin’s government.
The most recent arrests were in 2011, when he protested the results of parliamentary elections, and in 2012, when tens of thousands protested against Putin.