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Russian Security Expert: Time, Place Of Nemtsov's Killing Had 'Symbolic Significance'

Andrei Soldatov says carrying out the killing in the location where it was committed -- on Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil Cathedral in central Moscow -- demonstrated a high degree of coordination.
Andrei Soldatov says carrying out the killing in the location where it was committed -- on Moskvoretsky Bridge near St. Basil Cathedral in central Moscow -- demonstrated a high degree of coordination.

MOSCOW -- The killing of opposition Russian politician Boris Nemtsov occurred just steps from the Kremlin in one of the most heavily monitored locations in Moscow.

Yet Andrei Soldatov, editor of the website and the author of several books about Russia's special services, is convinced the perpetrators will never be brought to justice.

"For one thing, it has been a very long time since a special operation or 'liquidation,' if I may use that term, has been carried out on such a level," Soldatov says. "Second, even contract crimes and murders that were carried out on a lower level were not solved. The first case that comes to mind is that of [investigative journalist] Anna Politkovskaya, where the official position of the government is that the case is solved because the gunmen have been caught, but there is still no answer as to their motive or who ordered the murder. In the present case, it seems to me that even the gunmen won't be caught."

Soldatov warns against focusing too much on the single bit of surveillance-camera footage that has been made public, stressing that it is extremely unclear and that the moment of the crime is hidden by a street-cleaning truck. Soldatov says the video does not convince him that the truck was part of the conspiracy to kill Nemtsov.

It remains unclear whether better footage has been secured from other cameras near the scene of the crime. The daily Kommersant reported on March 2 that none of the other cameras were functioning at the time, but investigators have denied that report.

'Really Professional Team'

Kommersant also quoted investigators as saying they believed the killing was carried out by "nonprofessionals" using 20-year-old bullets.

Soldatov, however, strongly disagrees with this theory, saying that carrying out the crime in the location where it was committed demonstrated a high degree of coordination. "It is my firm conviction that several people -- maybe even several teams -- participated in this," he says.

The logistics of carrying out the killing on a narrow and busy bridge where it is "very difficult to be unnoticed either in a car or even on foot" and where it is extremely difficult to ensure that the escape car is able to reach the scene at the precise moment it is needed indicate to Soldatov considerable planning and coordination.

It would have been much easier and would have required fewer people, Soldatov argues, simply to ambush Nemtsov near the entrance to his building. However, the killers instead selected "a very complex technical means demanding the participation of a large number of people with a high level of preparation."

"I want to emphasize this because it is very important," he says. "The ordinary basic training of the special forces of the GRU [Russian military intelligence] would not be enough for something like this -- it must have been a really professional team."

Soldatov adds that not only the place, but the timing of the killing seems to have been selected in order to "send a message." The killing occurred just two days before a planned opposition rally, and the authorities were certainly monitoring Nemtsov carefully. Transcripts of his private telephone calls had been repeatedly leaked to pro-Kremlin media in recent years, providing further evidence that he was under surveillance.

"It seems clear that it would have been much simpler to carry out such an operation a week after the [planned] protest march," Soldatov says. "But for some reason it was decided to carry it out precisely at that moment. That is -- it had a definite, symbolic significance."

He notes that although it has been established that the authorities were monitoring Politikovskaya in the months before she was killed, no information from that monitoring was shared with investigators and there is no evidence that investigators questioned those who were following her or tracking her communications.

Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague