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'The West' Did It: Nemtsov Conspiracy Theory Snowballs In Russia

A man reacts at the site where veteran Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in central Moscow.
A man reacts at the site where veteran Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in central Moscow.

Since Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov’s slaying in central Moscow on February 27, numerous senior Russian officials, talking heads, and pro-Kremlin activists have insinuated or outright claimed that "the West" is responsible for the crime.

"Some kill in cold blood in front of movie cameras, with all of the cinematic flourishes and techniques, Islamist radicals do in the Middle East. Others kill in such a way that it appears they have nothing to do with another person’s death, mumbling something about democracy," Dmitry Kiselyov said on March 1 in his weekly news program Vesti Nedeli on the state-run Rossia-1 television channel.

Kiselyov, head of the state-owned media organization Russia Today who relentlessly decries what he calls attempts by the West to undermine Russia’s sovereignty, stopped short of directly accusing Western governments of organizing Nemtsov’s killing.

But in the segment, which featured a graphic reading "Bloody Provocation," he added that the West would benefit from the images of the crime scene on a bridge near the Kremlin on the eve of an antigovernment protest in Moscow that he said was destined to flop.

"No one would find out that the air was going out of the protest even before it started. Blood, stars, Nemtsov, bullets: Those are the associations they need," Kiselyov said.

Unlike Kiselyov, other prominent members of Russia’s political elite refused to dance around the conspiracy theory that the United States or Europe was responsible for killing Nemtsov in order to discredit Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government.

"Why are we so scared of conspiracy theories? Look what the CIA does. They kidnap our citizens. They torture people. They do anything they want," Andrei Lugovoi, a deputy in Russia’s State Duma, said in a March 1 talk show broadcast on Rossia-1.

Lugovoi, who is wanted in Britain in connection with the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian security-services officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, added that only the West benefited from the death of Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who became a vocal Putin critic and operated on the margins of Russia’s domestic political landscape at the time of his death.

"This clearly did not benefit the opposition or the authorities -- only the West. I am deeply convinced of this," said Lugovoi, who represents the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party in Russia’s lower chamber of parliament.

Another State Duma deputy, Valery Rashkin of the Communist Party, called Nemtsov’s assassination-style killing an "act of war against the entire Russian elite, a public demonstration with the message: 'We won't let anyone stop us.'"

Rashkin claimed in a February 28 blog post that the killing was ordered by "a transnational group of the financial elite based in the United States" that has ties to former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, wife of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

‘Provocation By The USA’

Russian-language Internet users have flooded social networks in recent days with accusations that the U.S. government was behind Nemtsov’s killing.

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, suggested that the proliferation of these theories on Twitter were part of a "paid campaign" and said it was ironic that for years Nemtsov had been demonized by Kremlin supporters as an American pawn.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whom rights activists and Western officials have accused of ordering extrajudicial killings both in Russia and abroad, saw no contradictions in Nemtsov's purported fealty to foreign paymasters that he claims were responsible for the slaying.

"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 by any means possible," Kadyrov wrote in a February 28 Instagram post. "That’s what they do. First they take someone under their wings, call him a friend of America and Europe, and then sacrifice him in order to implicate the political leadership."

Other Kremlin supporters took this message directly to U.S. diplomats in the Russian capital.

In a February 28 tweet, pro-Putin youth activist Maria Katasanova, an assistant to hard-line United Russia lawmaker Yevgeny Fyodorov, posted a photograph of herself standing in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow holding a sign that reads: "Nemtsov’s murder is a provocation by the USA."

Not all pro-Kremlin mouthpieces have rushed to accuse the United States or other Western governments of complicity in the crime.

Sergei Markov, a former State Duma deputy and veteran of the U.S. think tank world who once co-authored a book with McFaul, wrote in a February 28 Facebook post that the "dominant theory in Russia" that U.S. secret services were involved in Nemtsov’s killing is misplaced.

"Nemtsov was clearly a pro-American politician," Markov wrote. "It’s hard for me to imagine that the U.S. government bureaucracy would give the green light to U.S. secret services to kill a famous pro-American politician."

He posited that it is "very likely" that Ukrainian security services are responsible for Nemtsov’s death.

-- Carl Schreck

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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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