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Putin Tells Police To Avert 'Shame' Of Political Killings

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he attends a meeting with officials from the Interior Ministry in Moscow on March 4.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he attends a meeting with officials from the Interior Ministry in Moscow on March 4.

President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia must rid itself of "shame and tragedies" like opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's slaying, and told police they must solve political killings.

Speaking to senior Interior Ministry officials on March 4, Putin seemed to acknowledge the harm done to Russia's reputation by slayings of government critics such as Nemtsov, who was gunned down meters from the Kremlin on February 27.

"The most serious attention must be paid to high-profile crimes, including those with political undertones," Putin said in an address shown live on state television.

"It is necessary to finally rid Russia of shame and tragedies such as the one we have just endured and seen -- I mean the killing, the brazen killing, of Boris Nemtsov right in the center of the capital," he said.

Putin's remarks appeared aimed to acknowledge the significance of Nemtsov's slaying, which has shaken many Russians and sharpened anger among critics who say he has created a climate of hate, without taking any blame.

Putin suggested it was Kremlin opponents and "extremists" who have sown hate in Russian society, saying: "The actions of extremists are becoming more and more acute. And we are encountering attempts to use so-called 'color technologies,' from the organization of illegal street protests to overt propaganda of hatred on social media."

Kremlin critics say Russian authorities often lump antigovernment protesters in with extremists, blurring the boundaries between legitimate political activity and militancy.

Putin spoke shortly after the head of he Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, said that there were suspects in Nemtsov's slaying but made no suggestion that investigators were close to solving the crime.

Asked by journalists whether there were any suspects in the case, Bortnikov answered, "There always are."

Nemtsov, a reformist politician who served as deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and later became one of Putin's most prominent foes, was shot while walking across a bridge just off Red Square with a Ukrainian female companion shortly before midnight.

He was buried on the outskirts of Moscow on March 3 after an emotional ceremony attended by thousands of people.

Shortly after the killing, Putin called it a "provocation" and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.

Government opponents fear that may never happen, pointing to slayings of several Kremlin critics in the past that have gone unsolved.

Russia's most prominent opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, wrote in his blog on March 3 that he believes Nemtsov was killed in accordance with "an order from the political leadership of the country," stressing that included Putin.

Investigators said on February 28 that they were looking into several theories about the killing, including the possibility that it could have been linked to Islamic extremism or the conflict in Ukraine, or that Nemtsov could have been used as a "sacrificial victim" to further political aims -- wording pointing the finger at the opposition.

In his remarks on March 4, Putin also ordered police to "react immediately to any signals of extremist acts being prepared" and take steps to avert extremism, particularly among youth.

"Extremists poison society with the toxin of militant nationalism, intolerance, and aggression," Putin said.

He added that "we know very well what this can lead to from the example of neighboring Ukraine."

Russian officials routinely cast the ouster of Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as the result of a coup supported by fascists.