Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister and long time critic of President Vladimir Putin’s policy was gunned down outside of the Kremlin’s wall on Feb. 27, 2015. The crucial question Russians have asked for more than two years is: Who was the mastermind behind the assassination of the opposition leader?
Putin referred to Nemtsov’s murder, as “Russia’s shameful tragedy.” The answer the country and its president got after more than a two-year long investigation and a nine-month long court process was that an ordinary Chechen driver, Ruslan Mukhudinov, murdered Nemtsov.
The motive for the murder sounded sketchy and as to the location of the Chechen driver? Nobody knows. And what is even more concerning, nobody seems to be looking for him.
From day one after the assassination, Nemtsov’s family, his lawyers, and supporters believed that the man to be questioned on the case was Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, a Russian republic in Northern Caucasus. But the court has not made any attempts to question Kadyrov. Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, told The Daily Beast that the investigation that had not found the real mastermind behind her father’s murder made her “feel disgusted.”
Did Vladimir Putin feel the same way about the verdict as Zhanna Nemtsova? Back in 2015 the Russian president looked furious, speaking before Russia’s top police officers: “We need to rid Russia of shameful tragedies, like the one we’ve lived through recently,” Putin said forcefully. “I mean the impudent murder of Boris Nemtsov in the center of the capital.”
The same year, during a big annual press conference, Putin made it clear that the motive for the murder was Nemtsov’s opposition activity. “But that is not a fact that a person should be killed for that, I will never come to terms with that,” Putin told reporters insisting that everybody guilty of the assassination had to be punished, “who ever it is,” and that authorities were not to cover those responsible for the crime.
On Thursday the Russian jury found five men from the Northern Caucuses guilty, including a Chechen Zaur Dadayev, a former officer from the Russian Interior Ministry’s Sever Battalion. The guilty men might face life imprisonment. On Tuesday the 12-person jury will meet again and discuss the sentence.
Modern Kremlin is full of symbols. On the day when the jury was discussing the verdict for Chechen former officer Dadayev, the Kremlin received Dadayev’s former commander Alibek Delimkhanov, a brother of State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov to have a glass of champagne with President Putin and celebrate his graduation from the Military Academy of the General Staff. Chechen leader Kadyrov published a picture of Putin shaking hands with Delimkhanov in a proud post on Instagram. “Putin gives us a signal that he supports Chechen leadership,” Nemtsov’s lawyer Vadim Prokhorov told The Daily Beast.
Originally, the investigation was led by the experienced Igor Krasnov, who discovered materials proving that during the days before the assassination the suspects were staying in a Moscow apartment that belonged to Ruslan Geremeyev, a deputy commander of Russian Interior Ministry’s Sever Battalion and also a relative of Suleiman Geremeyev, a Chechen senator in the parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council. In December Nemtsov’s family and lawyers managed to convince the court to invite Ruslan Geremeyev and Sever’s commander Delimkhanov for questioning.
But then the investigator Krasnov was promoted, or “removed from the case in a classical Byzantine way,” Prokhorov told The Daily Beast, and the investigation slowed down.
Geremeyev did not show up in court. In 2015 a few Chechen officials who were suspected in organizing the assassination, including Geremeyev and his driver Mukhudinov, escaped Russia to the United Arab Emirates, where Mukhudinov had an apartment, Prokhorov said.
“All the threads leading to the mastermind are sticking out of the plot, leading to the Chechen leadership but nobody dares to pull by the ends to unwind the coil,” Prokhorov pointed out. “There is a video of the accused assassins and Ruslan Geremeyev, who is close to Kadyrov, meeting at ‘Ukraine’ hotel in Moscow on the eve before the murder; but for some reason there is no Geremeyev in the court’s case among the organizers.”
Sever Battalion commander Delimkhanov did appear before the jury in January and insisted that he never assigned Dadayev to go to Moscow in the period of June 2014 and March 2015. The official did not give any new details to help the investigation.
Independent Russian, Norwegian, and Swedish journalists coming to work in Chechnya were violently attacked last year by a group of Chechen-speaking thugs. Clearly, Chechen leadership did not feel like answering any questions. Ramzan Kadyrov defended Nemtsov’s suspected assassin. “I knew Zaur as a genuine Russian patriot,” Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram page, confirming that Dadayev was a Russian police officer in the Sever police unit. “He was the deputy commander of the battalion, and one of the most fearless and courageous soldiers of the regiment.”
Thousands of Russians marched to protest Nemtsov’s murder. Volunteers guarded the improvised memorial near the Kremlin, day and night. Nemtsov was a Russian official, a member of the Yaroslavl parliament. But the court refused to qualify his case, as Article 277 of the Criminal Code, which refers to “an attempt on the life of a government or public figure” and was investigated as a murder of an ordinary Russian citizen. “One of the prosecutors, Antipov told us that the court could not qualify the opposition, as government or public figures, so it means that if the ruling United Russia member got killed, it would have been Article 277,” Prokhorov said.
Nemtsov’s family, his lawyers and human rights defenders insisted that one of the five men found guilty, Khamzat Bakhayev, was not involved in the execution of the murder, since the investigation did not found his biological materials in the car that Dadayev and three more suspects drove on the night of the murder.
Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, wished the investigators questioned one of Vladimir Putin’s closest men, Chief of National Guard and former Chief of Interior Ministry Victor Zolotov. “Zolotov knows important information, as he was the commander of Interior forces at the time and Sever Battalion was under his command,” Zhanna told The Daily Beast. “According to our information, Zolotov visited Chechnya and met with Kadyrov shortly after the murder,” Nemtsov’s daughter added.
Last year Zhanna Nemtsova asked Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to appoint a special rapporteur to help expedite the investigation. “It has happened, I do not exclude a chance that in two years PACE report will shed light to new details of the crime.” As for the results of Russian investigation, Nemtsova said she did not hope to hear the name of the real mastermind behind her father’s murder. “And now authorities proved my worst expectations.”