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Moscow Offers No Answers, But Plenty Of Theories, On Nemtsov's Death

The body of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, covered with a plastic sheet, lies on Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil Cathedral in central Moscow after he was killed late on February 27.

The body of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, covered with a plastic sheet, lies on Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil Cathedral in central Moscow after he was killed late on February 27.

Russia officials and media have pointed to a number of potential culprits in the February 27 killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Spoiler alert: None of them involves the Kremlin.

1. The United States did it.

Officially, members of Russia's Investigative Committee and other top authorities have abstained from specific accusations, saying only that Nemtsov could have been a "sacrificial victim for those who will stop at nothing to achieve their political aims."

Many Russians appear to interpret this vague blanket definition as a reference to the United States. The Kremlin has repeatedly accused Washington of organizing last year's Euromaidan protests and government overthrow in Ukraine and seeking to do the same in Russia.

An informal online poll by the AntiMaidan organization found that 45 percent of respondents said the United States had arranged the killing of the liberal Nemtsov in order to provoke Maidan-style protests in Russia. (The Russian opposition came in second for essentially the same reason: 23 percent of respondents suggested the opposition was willing to kill one of its own in order to ignite protests.)

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov followed suit, writing on Instagram, "there is no doubt that the murder of Nemtsov was organized by Western intelligence agencies who seek by any means to create internal conflict in Russia."

(Nonstate media, including Novaya Gazeta, have suggested that Nemtsov was under threat from Kadyrov's own security personnel for his repeated criticism of the Chechen leader.)

2. Islamic extremists did it.

Russian investigators say they have evidence Nemtsov had been threatened because of his outspoken support for secularity and free-speech rights following the Charlie Hebdo killings in January.

To that end, some Russian media are quoting police as saying they were examining a white Lada car, abandoned near the shooting site, whose vehicle-registration number originates in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.

3. Ukrainians (of any persuasion) did it.

Nemtsov was fiercely opposed to suspected Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine and was weeks away from publishing what he said was incontrovertible proof of Russia's role in the crisis.

Nonetheless, Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee, has suggested that Ukraine is to blame for Nemtsov's killing. Markin said, "both sides of the conflict have very radical figures among their ranks" -- a statement that makes room for either pro-Ukrainian nationalists or pro-Russian separatists to serve as the culprit.

Some have suggested that Nemtsov, who was vilified by pro-Putin elements as an "enemy of the state" for his pro-Kyiv support, may have been killed by a disgruntled Russian fighter returning from Donbas.

A report by the Zvezda TV channel, which is owned by the Russian Defense Ministry, has offered the opposing view, that it may be two avowed Kremlin opponents -- ultranationalist Dmytro Korchynskiy and Dmytro Yarosh, the head of Ukraine's nationalist Right Sector, who are to blame for killing Nemtsov.

"[They] recently spoke of the need to carry out terrorist acts in Russia, and specifically in Moscow," the newscaster said. "It's quite clear that the attack has dealt a blow to all of Russia."

4. His messy personal life did it.

Within an hour of Nemtsov's death, the Twitterverse was lighting up with dozens of identically (and rudely) phrased messages suggesting he had been killed by a jealous Ukrainian whose girlfriend Nemtsov had stolen:

At the time of his shooting, Nemtsov was in the company of his girlfriend of several years, 23-year-old Ukrainian model Anna Duritskaya. Duritskaya emerged from the attack unscathed, but has made no public statement regarding the killing.

Some media sources quoted an unnamed police official as saying Duritskaya, a native of Kyiv, had recently traveled to Switzerland to have an abortion. The official said investigators "are not excluding the possibility there was a personal conflict over her." Still others suggested she was used to "steer him to the shooting location" on Moskvoretsky Bridge outside the Kremlin walls.

-- Daisy Sindelar

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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