For many in both Russia and the West, the Kremlin is inevitably the prime suspect in the February 27 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
But the possibility of a Chechen connection should not be dismissed out of hand, given Nemtsov's repeated criticism of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, and the fact that since 2011, security personnel loyal to Kadyrov have reportedly engaged with total impunity in abductions and killings in Moscow. Alternatively, Kadyrov's men may have killed Nemtsov at Russian President Vladimir Putin's behest.
The independent Novaya Gazeta investigated those reports, and met with Federal Security Service (FSB) staffers who in 2013 threatened to resign to protest prosecutors' refusal to bring charges against a group of Moscow-based Chechen Interior Ministry personnel arrested on suspicion of such killings. Instead, the men were released.
The website Caucasus Knot recalls that four years ago Kadyrov publicly called for Nemtsov to be imprisoned in light of his role in the mass protests in Moscow in December 2010. Nemtsov responded by branding Kadyrov "a psychologically very sick man" in need of urgent medical care. Nemtsov expressed regret that such men control the entire Caucasus, adding that he hoped that "eventually he will be dismissed and have to answer for everything."
In May 2014, Nemtsov addressed a formal request to FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov to investigate reports that Chechen security personnel were being infiltrated into eastern Ukraine to fight on the side of the pro-Russian separatists.
More recently, Nemtsov questioned the rationale for the grandiose rally of security personnel Kadyrov convened in Grozny in late December, at which Kadyrov affirmed that he had at his disposal 10,000 volunteers loyal to Putin who are ready "to carry out any command" in order to defend stability in Russia. Nemtsov estimated the Kremlin's annual subsidies to Chechnya at 60 billion rubles ($974.77 million) and predicted that in light of Russia's economic problems, "the unspoken contract between Kadyrov and Putin -- money in exchange for loyalty -- is coming to an end."
History With Chechnya
Nemtsov was born in Sochi, on the fringe of the Caucasus, and his engagement in Chechnya dates back to at least 1997, when as fuel and energy minister he and then-Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko jointly persuaded the Chechen leadership headed by President Aslan Maskhadov to repair the Baku-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk oil pipeline, according to Argumenty I Fakty, No. 37, September 2001.
In December 2000, Nemtsov, then a State Duma deputy representing the Union of Rightist Forces, and fellow parliament members met in Moscow with Maskhadov's emissaries in the hope of launching formal talks to end the war that had erupted one year earlier.
As a basis for such talks, Nemtsov had drafted a five-point peace plan under which Chechnya would have broad autonomy within the Russian Federation, but would "never" become independent. Instead, it would become a parliamentary republic with a civilian non-Chechen governor-general, who would be in charge of all "administrative, financial, political and military power in the republic."
The stipulation that the governor-general should not be a Chechen meant that had Nemtsov's plan been endorsed and implemented, Kadyrov's father Akhmed-hadji, then Putin's appointed satrap in Chechnya, would have been sidelined.
That governor-general would seek to reach agreement by January 2003 with all influential Chechen leaders, including Maskhadov. In the event that deadline was not met, Nemtsov advocated splitting Chechnya, with the northern lowlands being incorporated into Stavropol Krai and separated by border fortifications from the southern mountains where the resistance had taken refuge. The plan also provided for state assistance to Chechens forced to flee during the fighting.
In September 2001, Nemtsov reportedly incurred Putin's ire by travelling to Chechnya to deliver computers to two schools in the Achkhoi-Martan district southwest of Grozny. Putin reportedly responded by issuing an ultimatum to Nemtsov: either conclude a peace deal with the Chechens within one month or resign from the State Duma.
Ramzan Kadyrov, for his part, was quoted as affirming in an Instagram post that there could be "no doubt" that Western intelligence services intent on destabilizing the situation in Russia were behind Nemtsov's death. Kadyrov also commented that Nemtsov was not impressed by his efforts to rebuild Chechnya.
-- Liz Fuller