Gwynne Dyer: Moscow murder of Boris Nemtsov doesn't help Vladimir Putin

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      “Every time I call (my mother),” said Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov recently, “she gives me a talking-to: ‘When will you stop being rude about Putin? He'll kill you.’ ”

      Now Nemtsov is dead: four bullets in the back as he was walking home in Moscow with his girlfriend on Friday night. The protest march against Putin and the war in Ukraine that he was planning to lead on Sunday became a memorial march instead.

      So, two questions. Did President Vladimir Putin order the assassination? And if he didn’t, then who did, and why?

      The hit was carried out with professional skill only three minutes’ walk from Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the Kremlin, in an area that is infested day and night by militia (police) on constant alert to break up demonstrations. You could put together a feature-length film with the footage from the countless CCTV cameras that tracked Nemtsov’s walk across the square and down to the bridge where he died.

      It took accurate intelligence to know where Nemtsov would be on Friday night, and serious organization and planning to carry out the killing in such a heavily policed area. That points to members of the military or security forces, though not necessarily to ones who were acting on official orders. Because the first thing to say about this murder is that it did not serve Putin’s purposes.

      No doubt the Russian president disliked and despised Nemtsov, but neither he nor any other opposition leader posed any threat to Putin’s power. Thanks in large part to his seizure of Crimea and his military intervention in eastern Ukraine, Putin is currently enjoying an 85 percent approval rating with the Russian public. Why risk upsetting this happy relationship with the first public killing of a senior political figure in more than a decade?

      It’s much more likely that the killing was carried out by serving or former soldiers or intelligence officers who took it upon themselves to eliminate an “antipatriotic” politician who condemned “Putin’s War” in Ukraine. In the superheated atmosphere of nationalist paranoia that currently prevails in Russia, such people could easily imagine that they were doing just what Putin secretly wanted.

      Putin is too clever to want that, and immediately condemned the killing as “vile and cynical”. It was a curious choice of words: “vile”, of course, but why “cynical”? The reason became clear when various senior regime members began hinting that the murder was a “provocation” by Western intelligence services or even by Nemtsov’s own opposition colleagues, killing him to stimulate dissent and bring the Russian state into disrepute.

      This murder will have no permanent impact either on Russia’s internal politics or on its relations with the rest of the world. The paranoid style is now so deeply entrenched in Russian politics that people who support Putin (i.e. most people) will either believe the nonsense about Nemtsov’s murder being a “provocation”, or be privately glad that Putin acts so decisively (as they imagine) to protect Russia from its myriad enemies.

      As for the rest of the world (or at least the “western” part of the world), it has already written Putin off as a man you can do business with. The Russian leader is, in many Westerners’ eyes, an expansionist warlord who can only be contained by sanctions and threats. It may even take a new Cold War to stop him. Paranoia, alas, is a communicable disease.

      The Western narrative that seeks to explain how, in less than a year, we have arrived at a point where the United States is contemplating supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine to kill Russian troops, has several large gaps. The first is that the revolution on the Maidan in Kiev last winter overthrew a legitimately elected Ukrainian president only a year before the next elections were due.

      Putin initially accepted that outcome (with the elections moved up to only one month in the future), which was brokered by the European Union. In other words, he accepted the illegal overthrow of the pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych, so long as free elections followed rapidly. Quite possibly because he thought Yanukovych’s supporters in the east might boost him back into the presidency again.

      That same thought may also be why the revolutionaries in Kiev broke the deal and insisted on Yanukovych’s immediate removal from power. It was only then that Putin concluded that he was faced with a Western plot to whisk Ukraine into NATO and create a strategic and political threat on Russia’s southern frontier.

      There was no such plot: NATO has not the slightest desire to assume responsibility for the defence of Ukraine. But there was a great deal of open Western rejoicing at Russia’s discomfiture, and Putin lost his customary cool and responded with the annexation of Crimea and then the encouragement of pro-Russian rebels in southeastern Ukraine.

      “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton. “All great men are bad.” In that sense, Putin is a bad man, and more dangerous for being both paranoid and increasingly isolated. (His circle of advisers has dwindled to a handful of hawks.) But he is not planning to conquer even Ukraine, let alone the rest of the former Soviet empire, and he almost certainly did not order Nemtsov’s death.

      Comments

      11 Comments

      P.Peto

      Mar 2, 2015 at 8:12am

      Sometimes one must state unpopular thoughts and risk being heavily thumbed down in order to break the spell of a miasma of malicious propaganda pervading the current news scape. The Western media have seized upon the sensational murder of anti-Putin politician Nemtsov into,of all things, a "conspiracy theory". Of the many reasons Nemtsov may have been targeted the preferred speculation by "Westerners" is that the evil Kremlin and it's bogey man Putin is responsible for this heinous act. Considering all the anti-Russian shit that is currently been thrown around this high profile murder it couldn't have happened at a better time.
      So if there was any doubt about it before, it seems that the Dyer brand is clearly bought and paid for by the CIA, with a predicable pro-western spin in his opinions. He could have chosen to write a more dispassionate or open ended opinion on the matter or chosen a less charged subject but no he is doing his bit propagandizing for the Empire. Give me your thumbs loyal readers,I can take them!

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      I Chandler

      Mar 2, 2015 at 8:24am

      DYER: "It was only then that Putin concluded that he was faced with a Western plot...paranoia that currently prevails in Russia"

      Plots? And then there is the New York Times Putin Did It Conspiracy Theory writes Robert Parry:
      https://consortiumnews.com/2015/02/13/the-putin-did-it-conspiracy-theory/

      Eric Margolis writes:
      "We see the right demonizing enemies who supposedly threaten the entire nation...Purging the media of free-thinking journalists is a basic step. This has happened in the US and Canada."
      http://ericmargolis.com/2015/02/fascism-is-coming-alive-again-2/

      DYER: "NATO has not the slightest desire to assume responsibility for the defence of Ukraine."

      NATO 'has' no desire - but NATO 'had' (in the past) a deep desire to offer NATO membership to Ukraine. Dire might Assume that NATO takes responsibility for the defence of members.

      DYER:"That points to members of the military or security forces, though not necessarily to ones who were acting on official orders."

      Wow... A conspiracy of lone nutters? Allen Dulles would be impressed.

      DYER: "You could put together a feature-length film with the footage from the countless CCTV cameras that tracked Nemtsov’s walk"

      A feature-length film? Clint Eastwood's Hollywood can make Nemtsov into a martyr. Nemtsov won praise from Margaret Thatcher. His political career rose with the dear and kind , Boris Yeltsin. His unsuccessful elections could be blamed on gerrymandering - or just ignore the failures and just call him a "Russian opposition leader". The film would be an epic:

      -In 1999 his Union of Rightist Forces, received 8.6% of votes; In 2003 just, 4%, of votes and thus fell short of the 5% threshold necessary to enter Parliament and lost all of its seats... Nemtsov resigned from the party leadership, accepting his responsibility for the election defeats.
      - In 2002 his name appears on a list that the Moscow theater terrorists were willing to speak to.
      - He became Chairman of the Council of Directors of Neftianoi, an oil company, and also a political advisor to Ukranian president Viktor Yuschenko

      DYER: "the footage from the countless CCTV cameras that tracked Nemtsov’s walk"

      Hollywood will take care of those dam CCTV cameras. It's funny what happens to CCTV footage.
      The Pentagon CCTV footage has to be somewhere.

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      P.Peto

      Mar 2, 2015 at 11:46am

      Inasmuch as the "Straight" has chosen to publish my {above} rather flippant comments it behooves me to say that my comment that Dr Dyer is "bought and paid for by the CIA" is purely figurative ,that is,hyperbole,and should not be taken literally. It merely claims that Dr Dyer's opinions appear to be clearly aligned with "Western Interests"and NOT that he is actually paid for them by the CIA. Any payment he receives come from his publishers. No personal slander was intended.

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      Keepon

      Mar 2, 2015 at 12:06pm

      Murder has to have a motive. Who gains by Nemtsov's death? Certainly not Putin. Nemtsov was not a political threat. The fact he was murdered at a late hour, with one human witness and a stunning backdrop to optimise the anti Putin faction suggests western leaning political parties within Russia were the only ones to gain. And why was the only witness, a young Ukrainian model, not shot? This suggests she was somehow complicit in staging the murder. Maybe it was personal. Nemtsov was the a married father of 4 children with 3 different mothers - that can't gain you many friends.

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      JohnCan

      Mar 2, 2015 at 12:31pm

      Putin didn't do it? I don't know about that.

      It's just not credible that a person who most certainly would have been under close state surveillance was gunned down in the shadow of the Kremlin, and no one saw a thing. There's cops and security cameras everywhere there - who turned them all the other way? If it wasn't on Putin's orders, then it must have been the rogue instigation of someone close to him who could make this cover up. Not that we are likely to find out either way.

      As for the assassination not being in Putin's interest, that may be true, but paranoia often makes you do things that have bad outcomes for yourself.

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      Mosby

      Mar 2, 2015 at 12:53pm

      It's so sad to see Dyer stoop to using the same juvenile "Putin is a bad man" meme repeated endlessly by Western MSM.

      Gone are the days when Dyer interviewed insiders on multiple sides of an issue, digested the results, and then produced an insightful analysis of what was *really* going on. Nowadays all we get is speculation and innuendo that supports the official "we're the good guys; they're the bad guys" narrative.

      Consequently, instead of finding out what's going on in real time, we have to wait for the passage of time to show us, but by then it's history, not investigative journalism.

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      ArcticRon

      Mar 2, 2015 at 1:09pm

      This is Thomas Becket all over again. Putin didn't order his murder but he probably did complain about Nemtsov saying something similar to what Henry II said to his knights in 1170 "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?".

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      Kenji

      Mar 2, 2015 at 2:48pm

      I prefer "troublesome" or even "meddlesome" to "turbulent". No CCTV cameras to capture what Henry actually said, however.

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      @P.Peto

      Mar 3, 2015 at 8:57am

      "my comment that Dr Dyer is "bought and paid for by the CIA" is purely figurative ,that is,hyperbole,and should not be taken literally"

      Why apologize? It's hard to know what (or who) motivates the media. Bought Journalism is German bestseller about CIA paying Western media . Is Dyer in the CIA's jurisdiction? He might fall under mi6/Ofcom and Not want to loose his license for "Anti-Western Views"...The media and the CIA/NED/NSA all serve the same master.

      Carl Bernstein wrote THE CIA AND THE MEDIA - How Americas News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the CIA and Why the Cover Up:
      http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php

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      Mary Holadyk

      Mar 4, 2015 at 6:13pm

      Why would you say that Nemestov's murder "did not suit Putin's purpose?" If Putin is indeed at the peak of his popularity in Russia, then he wouldn't be in danger of losing popularity---his propaganda has worked to his advantage thus far--shouldn't he rid himself of a popular opponent? (Are there 'popular opponents' in Russia?) Given that Nemestov was about to reveal proof of Russia's involvement in Ukraine would give Putin a strong motive. "The murder was provocation of Western intelligence services..." where have I heard that before..only from the removal of Yanokovych from office to the downing of the Malaysian aircraft. How can you call the peaceful protesters at the Maidan in Kyiv revolutionaries? Do revolutionaries stand in the cold of winter holding candles, singing the national anthem and praying? They were protesting the fact that they were missing their chance of an economic alliance with Europe..an alliance that would pull them out from under the heavy handed rule of Soviet Russia that suppressed all freedom and any chance of maintaining a Ukrainian identity. Putin wants Ukraine under his thumb, and don't kid yourself into thinking that he does not. Ukraine is a peaceful nation looking to prosper with Europe, not to be crushed by the paws of the Russian bear.

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