One year after the murder of charismatic Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, “customer” who hired Nemtsov’s killers is still unidentified.
Some opponents of President Putin say it is not a coincidence that critics of the Russian leader and his government have been murdered or put in prison.
But Moscow has rejected accusations that Kremlin is behind the series of murders against the opposition.
Russian opposition is still under threat
Every weekend Nadezhda Mityushkina, an opposition activist, comes to the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin where Nemtsov was shot to death.
Mityushkina and dozens of other opposition activists, along with Muscovites have been routinely standing guard by the vigils placed at the murder scene since a year go to protect them from municipal employees or pro-government bravos from damaging the provisional memorial to Nemtsov.
"Seven or eight years ago, when people were jailed for 15 days, everyone was terrified, and then people got used to it," said Mityushkina, "Later, people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, and everyone got used to that, too. Then Boris was killed. If you look at the past years you can see how things got scarier, and for me it was not a turning point but rather a point of no return."
Late January 2016, the Investigative Committee, Russias top investigative agency, informed defence lawyers it had concluded its investigation into the five suspects, who are being kept under surveillance, but it had yet to determine who authorised the contract killing.
Russian opposition says they are under threat due to the Kremlins perturbative approach towards them.
For example, when Ilya Yashin, Nemtsov's close ally, was running for a seat in the local legislature in Kostroma outside Moscow last year, local printers rejected to produce his brochures and local people were afraid to campaign for him due to the potential consequences.
"It always starts with harmless pranks, and when society gets used to the fact that it is OK to behave like that toward opposition leaders ... that means tomorrow you can ratchet up the pressure," said Dmitry Gudkov, the only opposition member in the Russian parliament. "If the government does not crack down on this right now, it will mean that it either has no control of what is going on or that it has a role in it."
On December 2015, Russia issued international arrest warrant for top Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky on suspicion of organising the contract killing of the mayor of a Siberian oil town.
Khodorkovsky, known to be on bad terms with Putin, once ran what was then Russia’s biggest oil company, YUKOS. He was arrested in 2003 and charged with fraud and tax evasion. He was released from prison in 2013.
Recently Khodorkovsky accused Putin of pushing Russia into a period of stagnation reminiscent of the Soviet regime and claimed that the court punished him for funding Putin’s opposition in Russia.
Speaking to TRT World, Emre Ersen, associate professor in the Department of the Political Science and International Relations Department at Marmara University, says systematic killing and jailing of Putin opposition figures has increased since 2002 in Russia.
Even if Kremlin claims it has fulfilled its responsibility to investigate Nemtsov’s murder, the killing of opposition figures is starting to look suspicious and creating big questions in people’s mind, said Ersen.
“We cannot say clearly Putin is one hundred percent behind this killings,,, but it is clear that those incidents intimidate oppositions if they make an effort for leadership in the future”, he said. “When outstanding oppositions are punished for different reason by Russian authorities, people have no alternative choice except Putin.”
Here's a look at some of free-spoken critics of Kremlin, who have been either sent to exile, kept under house arrest, murdered or are in prison.
Nemtsov, 55, was a liberal politician and a top official with the Republican Party of Russia/Party of People's Freedom.
Nemtsov is a former deputy prime minister and avid critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he was killed on Moscow's Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge just 100 metres from the Kremlin on Feb. 27, hours after calling Putin’s policies in Ukraine "mad” and “aggressive" on a radio programme.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) 28 February 2015
He had been arrested many times due to his criticism of Putin's government. The latest series of arrests were in 2011, after he protested the outcome of parliamentary elections, and in 2012, when thousands of people rallied to protest Kremlin.
During an interview with Newsweek just hours before he was killed, Nemtsov said Russia under Putin's leadership was swiftly turning into a fascist country.
Nemtsov accused Putin of trying to persuade Russians to re-establish the former Soviet order and indicated that to achieve this aim, he used all these things with “Goebbels-style propaganda," referring to Nazi Germany's propaganda minister.
“We’re drowning. Everyone. Due to the policy of Vladimir Putin, a country with unparalleled potential is sinking, an economy which accumulated untold currency reserves is collapsing,” he said.
If Putin gave order to murder Boris Nemtsov is not the point. It is Putin's dictatorship. His 24/7 propaganda about enemies of the state.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) 27 February 2015
Nemtsov was planning an opposition rally with thousands attending in Moscow. But two days before the rally, he was shot dead.
Nemtsov supporters believe that Putin has a hand in the incident but Moscow suspects enemies of Russia.
Daughter of Nemtsov, Zhanna Nemtsova said Putin is “politically responsible” and added that the authorities are “not interested in an independent investigation.”
Boris, 67, was a Russian business oligarch and was politically opposed to President Vladimir Putin.
Berezovsky went into self-exile in England in 2000. He accused the Kremlin of killing Litvinenko, one of his closest associates.
He supported Litvinenko's widow financially to enable her to open an investigation into her husband's death.
He survived several murder attempts, including a bomb that decapitated his chauffeur.
The powerful businessman was found dead at his home in 2013, with a ligature around his neck.
His lawyer wrote that he may have committed suicide but the coroner's office stated it could not say for sure.
“I don’t believe it was suicide,” his close friend Akhmed Zakayev said. “My friend would not have taken his own life.”
“We all know the Russian secret service works on a world stage against Putin’s opponents and anyone who criticises his government. This death is part of a pattern.”
Magnitsky, 37, was a Russian lawyer who died in prison in 2009 after an alleged beating.
He claimed that Russian officials had allowed and led a large-scale theft operation. He was detained in 2008 on the suspicion of aiding tax evasion.
The Kremlin denied that the prosecution was an act of revenge to distract attention from corrupt officials.
A human rights council set up by the Kremlin found that he was physically assaulted shortly before his death.
Following his death he was found guilty of tax fraud. In the same judgement, William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management which Magnitsky represented, was also found guilty of tax fraud.
He denied the charges and stated the case was politically motivated. In a statement, he said the decision "will go down in history as one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin."
"The desperation behind this move shows the lengths that Putin is ready to go and to retaliate against anyone who expose the stealing and corruption he presides over," he said.
Estemirova was an award-winning Russian human rights activist.
She was abducted in July 2009 by unknown persons outside her home in Grozny, Chechnya and found dead the same day.
She was investigating hundreds of "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya related to alleged kidnapping, torture and extra-judicial killings by Russian soldiers or militias in Chechnya, where security forces were fighting against separatist rebels.
— Amnesty Luxembourg (@AmnestyLux) 15 July 2015
The head of Memorial Human Rights Centre accuses the Moscow-backed Chechen leader Kadyrov of ordering her murder.
Kadyrov rejected the accusations about her murder and called the incident a "monstrous crime" that was carried out to denigrate his government.
Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova
On January, 19 2009, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was shot dead in Moscow.
His killer also shot dead Anastasia Barburova, a 25-year-old journalist. While she was walking with the lawyer to a metro station.
Witnesses stated Barburova tried to pursuit the murderer, who turned around and shot her in the head.
Markelov worked on Russian military abuse cases in Chechnya.
Litvinenko,44, was a former Russian spy and died in 2006 after he was poisoned by radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea in a London hotel.
When he lived in London, Litvinenko wrote two books, Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within and Lubyanka Criminal Group. He accused the Russian secret services of carrying out the Russian apartment bombings in 1999 and other attacks in an attempt to bring Putin to power.
He also accused Putin of issuing the order for the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
The former Russian spy said in a statement two days before his death, “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.”
The UK High Court Judge Robert Owen, conducted the inquiry over Litvinenko killing, saying Putin probably approved the operation to kill Litvinenko.
Politkovskaya was a journalist, writer, and human rights activist. She was also a vocal critic of Russia's war in Chechnya and President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
Politkovskaya was found dead. She had been shot four times at the entrance of her Moscow apartment on October 2006, Putin's birthday.
She accused Putin of supporting corruption and pushing down civil liberties. Before her killing, Politkovskaya received several death threats.
After her death, Putin rejected any involvement in her killing and indicated that Politkovskaya's "death in itself is more damaging to the current authorities both in Russia and the Chechen Republic ... than her activities."
A Moscow court sentenced five men to prison for her murder.
Klebnikov was an investigative American journalist and historian of Russian history.
He was killed at the age of 41 outside his office by unknown assailants who fired at him from a car in Moscow in 2004.
Klebnikov was a chief editor of the Russian edition of Forbes and had written about corruption in Russia.
Forbes announced that the attack was "definitely linked" to Klebnikov's journalism.
The organisers of the murder have not yet been identified.
Yushenkov, 53, was a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party.
He was murdered near his home in north-west Moscow on 17 April 2003, just hours after he registered his party to join in the December 2003 parliamentary elections.
Ivan Nikitchuk, a Communist member of the lower house of parliament, stated President Putin should be called to account for the murder.
"Let him tell us who is ruling the country: bandits, the Mafia, or the president," he said.
A former Federal Security Service Colonel, Mikhail Trepashkin, thought that Yushenkov was killed because he was a leader of an opposition party and explicitly challenged the power of the Federal Security Service and Russian authorities.
Author: Hamza Bayrak