Leading Russian opposition politician Boris Y. Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin, was shot dead on a Moscow street near the Kremlin early Saturday, Russian officials and news agencies reported.More.
A fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov had been preparing to join an opposition rally Sunday against the Kremlin leader’s backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, which has brought international sanctions against Russia and sent its economy into a tailspin.
"An unknown person shot and killed Boris Nemtsov on St. Basil’s slope by four shots from a handgun," the Tass news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying. "A team of operatives and investigators is working at spot of the crime."
The Russian Interior Ministry, which oversees police and security operations, later confirmed that Nemtsov had been gunned down in the shadow of St. Basil’s Cathedral on a sidewalk across the street from Red Square.
Television and YouTube video from the scene showed the lifeless body of the 55-year-old politician -- once considered a future Kremlin leader -- sprawled on a sidewalk along the busy thoroughfare in the heart of the Russian capital.
Putin expressed condolences to the family of the slain politician, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Putin noted that this was a cruel murder and bears all the signs of a contract killing which appears exclusively provocative,” Peskov told ITAR-TASS.
Nemtsov's close associate and opposition leader Ilya Yashin called the attack on his friend “a political murder.”
“Boris was the most outspoken critic of Putin and the most charismatic leader of the opposition, and his dead body found 100 yards from the Kremlin is a clear message to all the opposition activists and all people who do not support the Kremlin,” Yashin said in an interview with The Times. “This act of political terror is clearly aimed to stun and horrify the opposition to the Putin regime on the eve of the march we will now hold as a mourning march as originally planned on Sunday.”
President Obama condemned the slaying and offered condolences to Nemtsov’s family.
“Nemtsov was a tireless advocate for his country, seeking for his fellow Russian citizens the rights to which all people are entitled,” Obama said in a statement. “I admired Nemtsov’s courageous dedication to the struggle against corruption in Russia and appreciated his willingness to share his candid views with me when we met in Moscow in 2009.”
Nemtsov ran afoul of Putin's Kremlin administration years ago and had been active with the opposition coalition PARNAS.
A companion who witnessed Nemtsov’s killing was being questioned by police, the official Sputnik news agency reported.
Russia Today television, a pro-Kremlin mouthpiece, said on Twitter that the slaying “could be a provocation,” suggesting that the opposition was responsible for the killing to tarnish the Putin administration.
Pro-democracy allies and world leaders who knew the gregarious and energetic politician expressed horror over the killing that many were inclined to see as an assassination.
“Shock. Boris has been killed. It’s impossible to believe,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said via Twitter. “I’m certain the killers will be punished. Sooner or later.”
Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion and another outspoken opponent of Putin, linked Nemtsov’s killing with other violence attributed to the Kremlin and its enforcers.
“[Journalist Anya] Politkovskaya was gunned down. MH17 was shot out of the sky. Now Boris is dead. As always, Kremlin will blame opposition, or CIA, whatever,” Kasparov said via Twitter.
And at BuzzFeed, "Killing Hope In Putin’s Russia." And Memeorandum.