Multiple outlets are now reporting that the veteran Russian liberal politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in Moscow today. According to the Russian newswire TASS, he was shot four times near the center of the city.
The exact circumstances aren’t yet clear, but the shooting comes just before Sunday’s planned “anti-crisis” opposition rally in Moscow, organized by Russia’s beleaguered political opposition, which until today included Nemtsov. Fellow opposition leader Alexey Navalny was jailed last week, preventing him from attending the rally, meaning two of the movement’s best known leaders have now been silenced ahead of the highly-anticipated event, which is supposed to call attention to the worsening state of the Russian economy.
Born in Sochi, Nemtsov was considered a rising star in Russian politics during the 1990s when served as governor of Nizhny Novgorod and then a deputy prime minister in Boris Yeltsin’s government. A co-founder of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, he became a staunch opponent of Vladimir Putin as well as a strong supporter of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution and advisor to former Ukrainian President and Putin antagonist Viktor Yuschenko. In 2008, he cofounded the opposition party Solidarity with chess champion Garry Kasparov, and in 2009, unsuccessfully ran against a Kremlin-backed candidate for mayor of Sochi. He was a fixture at opposition rallies in Moscow and was arrested multiple times. Earlier this week, he had been sentenced to 10 days in jail for resisting arrest during a 2012 rally. Nemtsov also found other ways to needle Russia’s president, including publishing photos of his (alleged) Black Sea villa.
Nemtsov’s excellent English and sarcastic sense of humor made him one of the most quoted Russian opposition figures in the Western media. When I interviewed him in 2010 about plans to hold the Winter Olympics in his hometown, he was incredulous about the idea of having the games in “one of the only places in Russia where there is no snow in the winter. Comparing to Nikita Krushchev’s desire to grow corn in the Arctic circle, he predicted that the games would be “an economic and ecological catastrophe.”
Nemtsov believed pressure from Putin and cronyism was behind the IOC’s decision to hold the games in Sochi. “Eventually, there will be an international investigation to bring to light why this decision was made,” he predicted, so far, sadly, inaccurately.
In an article on the upcoming rally published yesterday, he told the Financial Times that he believed Putin would serve out the rest of his term, as well as another one beginning in 2018. The goal, he said, was to be ready for 2024 when, according to Russia’s constitution, Putin can no longer run again.
“Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents,” he said. “The task is to organize a real opposition again.”