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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: March 5, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Re-Cap of Nemtsov Murder Investigation; Illarionov Believes Cover-Up, Disinformation Means State Involved
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Today, six days after the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the state media has fallen silent on promoting various theories for his murder and has not produced any new evidence.

In the last six days we've seen just one video of the scene that appears to be valid, released by TV Tsentr, showing a possibly suspicious role of a street-cleaning machine or snowplow.

We've seen a flurry of reports from officials and semi-official sources describing different cars that may be related to the getaway vehicle and several other brief video clips of them, evidently taken from traffic police or surveillance camers; an interview with the snowplow driver who stopped when he saw the murder, but who says he saw nothing; even a witness named Viktor M. who supposedly saw the shooting but whose information isn't being disclosed by the investigation.

But while authorities have invoked the usual scapegoat for Russian crimes -- "persons of Caucasian origin" meaning the North Caucasus of Russia, home to Chechens, Ingush, Dagestanis and others -- they have made no arrests.

The Russian independent press and blogosphere has had an outpouring of recollection about Nemtsov and discussion of theories of the case and criticism of the official versions of events. But they have not been able to conduct an investigation under the very conditions that make it possible to kill an opposition figure. TV Rain, the one remaining independent TV channel, got an interview with Nemtsov's companion, Anna Duritskaya, who was with him when he was shot, but she was not only in shock and unable to say much; it was later reported that she was under a signed statement not to disclose the details of the investigation.

Oleg Kashin, one of the most prolific bloggers who, despite his location now in exile in Europe after a severe beating, remains connected to networks of sources in Russia, said that the investigation was thorough -- even examining cigarette butts -- but had nothing new yet.

Alexey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the radio station and web site Ekho Moskvy set the tone today in describing his own questioning by the police regarding threats to another journalist, talk show host and socialite Ksenya Sobchak.

He said that it was the duty of the police to investigate murders, and that Nemtsov himself, as he had sat in the studio of Ekho Moskvy giving an interview, hours before his death, did not heed warnings given to him by reporters that he should have a bodyguard, given the threats he had received -- from social media, on his home phone, and in  the climate of hatred incited by official media and negative advertising campaigns. Some of these were collected today by Yod and cumulatively, made quite an impression.


Banners hung from buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg showing the "Fifth Columnists" who are to blame for "falling income and rising prices". Nemtsov is in the upper right corner on the left and in the middle on the right.

Alexey Navalny, Nemtsov's fellow opposition leader, was coordinating a big anti-war march with him on the eve of his murder, is still serving the 15-day jail sentence he earned while out leafletting together with Nemtsov in the metro last month, He has written among the best debunkings of the reasons the Kremlin claims Nemtsov's murder couldn't possibly be executed by the government -- that he was a marginal figure from the past -- an official in Yeltsin's 1990s -- that his murder only discredits the government so they wouldn't undertake it, and so on.

Navalny explains that Nemtsov had a following more than is admitted by a government anxious to downplay it, and still maintained contacts with those in the Kremlin today, as could be seen from some of those who attended his funeral.

Andrei Illarionov, a former advisor to Putin, has lined up all the data and theories on his blog and examined the evidence from the Investigative Committee so far, and shows the discrepancies and the holes in the stories of the pro-Kremlin press. The following is a summary translation by The Interpreter:

1. The white vehicle -- this was indicated by Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee and picked up by state media and opposition alike. Illarionov says that shooting from a white vehicle is a "Chechen footprint" or style in which drive-by shootings are committed in the Caucasus, so as to turn attention toward blaming of Caucasians.

This story was undone by the TV Tsentr tape, which illustrates that no shots came out of the car windows. Instead, the shooter got into a car to escape -- and that car wasn't white.

2. The authorities never mentioned a snowplow at first -- but again, the TV Tsentr tape indicated that a street-cleaning vehicle may have even deliberately blocked the view of cameras during the murder, and may also have enabled someone to jump on and off it, to get to the scene of the crime.

3. Illarionov points out that the time slot on the TV Tsentr video for the murder would not accommodate 6 shots, and likely only 2 could have fit in.

4. The TV Tsentr tape also indicates that the official version of the shooting -- that the killer came up the stairs, then shot Nemtsov from a Makarov -- could not be true, as the videotape shows no figures by the stairs at all.

5. Sergei B., the snowplow driver produced by LifeNews as a witness, may be fake; in any event, he says he didn't see anything.

The TV Tsentr tape shows how after Nemtsov was attacked at 23:31.14-16, a car slowed down, and stopped in about 10-15 seconds at 23;31.29.

"The only reason that a driver would stop a car immediately at that very place was the crime -- of which he was a witness (or accomplice)," says Illarionov. But he didn't get out of the car or get closer to Nemtsov, so he does not seem to be random.

Duritskaya talked with the driver for four minutes. When she walked away from the snowplow, the driver left the scene of the crime (at 23:36:06) at full speed. He did not go on "cleaning the curb," as he claimed to LifeNews.

6. "Viktor M.," a witness produced by LifeNews and put on camera with his face disguised, claims he was walking behind Nemtsov and Duritskaya at a distance of about 80 meters. On the TV Tsentr tape, he appears at about the first lamp post from the direction of Vasilyevsky Spusk (about 125 meters from the scene of the crime) only at 23:31:50, that is about 34 seconds after the first shots and the falling of Nemtsov to the ground. If what he says is true, he would have been about 200 meters from the scene, although not directly at the line of sight. If he was still "looking at his smartphone" as he described, then he would not have seen Nemtsov fall or the man jump over the barrier to get into the getaway car. The TV Tsentr video here, too, contradicts his story, as he didn't "fall on" a man lying on the ground, but approached him at a rapid pace. Thus, Viktor M. could not have seen the suspected murderer and describe him as "a man dressed in jeans and a brown sweater."

It's also not clear from the video whether Viktor M. tried to help Nemtsov; he approached only at 23:32:50 when Duritskaya had walked away from the body toward the snowplow man. Viktor M. spent approximately 23 seconds by the body.

LifeNews reported the following:

The criminals shot the politician right before his eyes...Viktor threw himself to help the man lying on the ground. However the help was too late -- Boris Nemtsov, who had take several bullets in his back began to gasp and died shortly afterward. Only later Viktor learned that a famous politician had died in his arms.

This part of the story is "close" to what likely really happened but it is necessary to make some corrections, says Illarionov.

Waiting until Duritskaya left Nemtsov to go to the snowplow driver (did he call to her?), Viktor M went up to the mortally wounded Nemtsov and made four shots at him, apparently with the bullets from the Yuryuzansky Mechanized Factor, made in 1986 (the other bullets found at the scene).

And that's why Nemtsov died "before Viktor's eyes."

After that, Viktor M. walked away at 23:33:13 from Nemtsov and went up to the snowplow man and Duritskaya. Seeing that "everything was fine," he went back to the body and remained there for awhile. It's not clear if he waited for the police to come.

7. Anna Duritskaya is clearly frightened and in shock, she said she didn't see anything, and if she remembers later, her original testimony when she said she didn't see anything will be recalled. It is not likely she'll return to Russia for the trial.

8. Officials have "divided the labor" of the "witnesses"  -- at first, they tried to have just two, Duritskaya and the snowplow man, but then they ended up with Viktor M. His story, published February 28 at 17:43, was said to be "testimony from a key witness." Illarionov then sees him as being entrusted to relay all the key components of the version of the story -- the description of the killer, the type of car, and even adding in for good measure the "attempts to save the man lying on the ground" who "died in his arms."

Obviously, when TV Tsentr, which belongs to the city of Moscow, decided to release their video footage, this completely upset the plans of police and intelligence, says Illarionov. Then LifeNews scrambled to come up with Sergei B., the snowplow driver who "was a witness to the murder of Nemtsov but didn't see the killer" -- even though  he was 5-6 meters away, and Viktor M. was 200 meters away.

9. So, to re-cap, there are now three persons of interest -- Nemtsov's compansion, the snowplow driver and the "accidental passerby". Illarionov believes that the snowplow driver and the passerby are actually accomplices. Duritskaya's name and everything about her past was spilled across the pages of the press; nothing is known about the other two, even their full names. To add to the confusion, yesterday there were reports that Serge B. had quit his job; then others that said he had not. Says Illarionov:

"The style reminds me of the resignation, several days after the Smolensk air crash [in which a plane full of top Polish officials were killed], of a key witness to the crime, the Smolensk Severny airport dispatcher, Col. N. Krasnokutsky."

10. The cameras are said not to be working; the Federal Protection Service (FSO) responsible for guarding the president and the guards of the Kremlin also said the cameras on the lamp posts that recorded Nemtsov's murder (said to number 18) do not belong to them. But Moscow city officials refuted that statement and said the cameras were working.

11. Authorities have also hastened to put out a variety of theories about the murder culprits, from the CIA to the SBU to Chechens to Russian nationalists.

Illarionov concludes that the authorities made exceptional efforts to cover up the murder, and adapt to the revelations of the TV Tsentr footage; he therefore believes the killers will never be found -- at least in the near future -- and that the very disinformation and cover-up, as well as the conflicting stories, are indications that the state is behind the assassination.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick