Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Power Vertical

Putin's 'Hybrid' Great Terror

The body of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, covered with plastic, lies on Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil Cathedral in central Moscow early on February 28.
The body of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, covered with plastic, lies on Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil Cathedral in central Moscow early on February 28.

When reporters asked former world chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov who was behind the assassination of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, he dismissed the question as irrelevant.

Whoever did the dirty work, he implied, would have done so only with President Vladimir Putin's blessing.

"Who gave the order to kill Nemtsov? Who knows,” Kasparov said. ”But this was done not far from the Kremlin and it would have been done by Putin's cronies. Who ordered it? I don't care. Putin must be held responsible for the murder of Boris."

Kasparov’s remark gets to the heart of the larger significance of Nemtsov’s killing. We don't yet know who ordered and carried out the hit or why. But the specifics don't matter as much as the signal it sends -- and what it portends.

"The message is this," Kasparov said. "We have no allergy to blood and anyone can be killed."

Exactly one year after Putin launched a hybrid war in Ukraine with the appearance of the storied "little green men" in Crimea, the killing of Nemtsov -- by men shooting from a little white car -- appears to mark an escalation of what can be described as a hybrid campaign of terror against Russia’s beleaguered and largely ineffectual opposition.

The War At Home

Like the hybrid war against Ukraine, Putin’s war at home, his Hybrid Great Terror campaign against his domestic critics, uses multiple methods: a well-honed disinformation campaign, legal machinations, stage-managed public demonstrations, and indiscriminate violence. 

The regime’s opponents have been derided as traitors in the state media, harassed by Kremlin-sponsored youth groups, hit with absurd criminal charges, put under house arrest, and sent to prison camps. They’ve been marginalized, vilified, and ridiculed to the point of irrelevance.

And like in Ukraine, the whole thing is designed to give Putin plausible deniability.

Just as Russia’s invasion of its southern neighbor is framed as a "civil war" in which Moscow is just an interested observer, the campaign against the opposition is presented as just journalists doing their job, just concerned citizens speaking out against sedition, just the justice system carrying out its work.

But the Nemtsov assassination takes Putin's hybrid war at home to a whole new level. The penalty for opposition now, is not just imprisonment -- it is death.

Yes, other Putin critics have met violent, mysterious, and unexplained ends -- State Duma deputies like Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, who were investigating the 1999 apartment bombings that helped bring Putin to power; investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya; and emigre security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko just to name a few. But none had profiles as high as Nemtsov.

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Taking out an internationally known former deputy prime minister whom Boris Yeltsin once touted as his potential successor as president suggests that -- just as in Stalin’s Great Terror of the 1930s -- nobody is immune.

A Nod And A Wink

It is hard to imagine assassins pulling off such a clearly professional hit on a figure of Nemtsov's stature and getting away clean -- in the heart of Moscow, just blocks from the Kremlin, in one of the most heavily policed parts of the capital -- without official sanction.

"Boris Nemtsov took not a step nor a breath that wasn't under the intense surveillance of the FSB. Just like all opposition leaders in Russia. Nothing Boris Nemtsov did was not bugged, tailed, filmed or monitored by the secret police,” journalist and Kremlin-watcher Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin, wrote.

"It is quite simply impossible that this man could have been shot dead without the Kremlin knowing there was a plot afoot to kill him. This means the murder of Boris Nemtsov was either ordered or allowed to happen: which come to exactly the same thing."

Indeed, whether the permission to assassinate Nemtsov was in the form of an explicit order, came with a nod and a wink, or was the result of the general political climate in which opposition figures are vilified as traitors and enemies of the state, is largely irrelevant.

"In Putin's atmosphere of hatred and violence, abroad and in Russia, bloodshed is the prerequisite to show loyalty that you are on the team," Kasparov wrote on Twitter.

"If Putin gave [the] order to murder Boris Nemtsov is not the point. It is Putin's dictatorship. His 24/7 propaganda about enemies of the state."

For his part, Putin has condemned Nemtsov's killing, took personal control of the investigation, and said it could have been a "provocation" aimed at destabilizing Russia. 

"But who was the provoker?" Bloomberg political commentator Leonid Bershidsky, a prominent Russian journalist who emigrated last year, asked in a column.
"In recent months, Putin's propaganda machine has been vigorously inciting Russians against the 'fifth column' -- those who protested against the annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin-instigated war in eastern Ukraine. Nemtsov was on every list of traitors published on the Internet and aired on state TV."

If you thought it couldn’t get much worse, if you thought Putin’s Kremlin couldn’t get more brutal or brazen, think again. 

"Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia with three things: money, propaganda and terror," Judah wrote. 

"Now the money is running out, the equation has shifted. Today, Russia is ruled mostly through propaganda and terror."

-- Brian Whitmore

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
February 28, 2015 17:51
Just watched "Вечер с Владимиром Соловьевым" [Evening with V. Soloviev] 2/28, and not surprising that the overwhelming consensus among the ‘expert panelists’ is that Nemtsov’s murder was a provocation organized by either Ukrainian or American secret intelligence services. For those who understand Russian, you can be ‘enlightened’ here:

by: Danram from: Houston, TX
February 28, 2015 18:28
Today's Russia is, quite simply, a dictatorship. Anyone who seriously believes otherwise is deluding themselves.

The parallels between Putin's Russia today and Hitler's Nazi Germany in the 1930s are truly frightening.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
March 01, 2015 23:54
there are important differences:
1. Putin does not call himself a fuhrer
2. Putin does not organize torch processions (look for those in Kiev)
3. Putin does not burn his opponents alive (again, look at US-supported Ukraine - Odessa for that)
4. Putin actually won all wars he started, while the Shrub, Hitler, and Hussein Obama lost all
In Response

by: Cronous from: Earth
March 02, 2015 10:13
"1. Putin does not call himself a fuhrer"

Why would he? He is not German, though he clearly views himself as the "leader"/czar.

"2. Putin does not organize torch processions (look for those in Kiev)"

Something inherently evil about torch processions?

"Putin does not burn his opponents alive (again, look at US-supported Ukraine - Odessa for that)"

Neither did the Nazis. An no one intentionally "burned" their opponents alive in Odessa, the fire was an accident due to skrmishes between two groups.

"4. Putin actually won all wars he started, while the Shrub, Hitler, and Hussein Obama lost all"

Really? An insurgency is still going on Chechnya and Dagestan. How exactly did he win? Hitler won the Spanish Civil War. Obama won against Libya and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are ongoing.
In Response

by: Ilya
March 02, 2015 23:35
If those are the main differences between Putin and Hitler then Russia is in worse trouble than I thought.
In Response

by: Jeremy from: London
March 04, 2015 09:52
Putin "won all wars he started". You mean picking on small states like Cechnya and Georgia. And attacking a bankrupt and corrupt country like Ukraine?
Hitler took on the USA, Russia, the UK, Canada, Australia and rest of the British Empire and most of Europe, and nearly won. That's a real war and it's laughable to compare Putler's sneaky mini wars with that.
Let's see how he gets on when his troops come up against a professional modern army - he may not look so successful then.
In Response

by: Friend of Bosnia from: * * *
March 02, 2015 17:21
Stalinism 2.0, more likely. Or you might call it Stalinism light.
Bad enough for those who are hit by it. Think Argentina in the 1970s from Videla to Galtieri.

by: Rods from: UK
February 28, 2015 18:55
When they no longer believe Putin's propaganda, it will just be terror!

by: hans
February 28, 2015 19:47
Shame on you, Mr. Kasparov.

by: martin from: uk
February 28, 2015 22:11
How long before we see another " Katyn wood " protesters beware , Putin has a likeness to Stalin .

by: Raci from: USA
February 28, 2015 22:25

Eastern European countries are calling it as it is whereas Western European countries and the US are calling on the Russian government to conduct a fair and transparent investigation. Is this a continuation of denial of the obvious as in the war against Ukraine? Why ask the "killer," direct or indirect, to investigate himself?

by: Jack from: Texas
March 01, 2015 00:10
This is a false flag hit! Are you people stupid enough to believe Putin's government would murder someone with the Kremlin in the back like a stage set? This is a propaganda event.

Don't insult my intelligence!
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
March 02, 2015 07:05
Can't insult something that doesn't exist.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
March 02, 2015 08:30
It is hard to insult something that does not exist.
In Response

by: Dazza from: Australia
March 03, 2015 13:24
Im with you Jack this clumsy destabilizing tactic has a western stench to it, this Kasperovs a right wing neo-con with US backers.

by: Anonymous
March 01, 2015 00:55
Putin in 2012 - Opposition is looking to turn someone into "involuntary martyr"

English subtitles

by: Anastasia from: Chicago
March 01, 2015 04:05
My question is still why some element of the Kremlin felt a need to kill Nemtsov now. The opposition was too weak to cause any threat even with Boris. Is the Kremlin that paranoid?
In Response

by: Carlos .. from: Zaporozhye
March 01, 2015 22:12
you don't know that Boris was about to release evidence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine ?
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
March 03, 2015 10:52
It's not about Nemtsov, per se. It's about instilling fear in all of the regime's critics. it's random. It can be anybody at anytime.
In Response

by: Friend of Bosnia
March 03, 2015 19:44
Yes, that's most likely true.
Besides that Putin may not necessarily have given the order to waste Nemcov; but it certainly benefits him.

by: Panas from: Chernivtsi
March 01, 2015 15:03
Russia's political climate is disgusting, revolting and barbaric.
In Response

by: Friend of Bosnia from: * * *
March 02, 2015 17:32
Indeed it is.

Not at all unlike it was in Serbia in the 1990s and has continued to this very day.
There was someone who not too long ago said that Putin "was no Milošević. Oh but indeed he is, he does things exactly the same.
Bosniaks dared stand up against Serb hegemony and oppression and the Serbs tried to walk all over them. Ukrainians dared stand up against Russian hegemony and of course the Russians are trying to walk all opvewr them. After all the Serbs and the Russians are brothers in more than spirit.
But neither the Bosniaks nor the Ukrainians should ever give up or surrender. Never. "Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus" - “Let there be justice, though the world perish.”
Comments page of 2

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or