Mysterious murders surrounding the Kremlin
After the shocking murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemstov, EDGAR investigates the slew of mysterious deaths that have occurred during president Putin’s reign.March 2, 2015
Twenty minutes before midnight on Friday the 28th of February, Boris Nemtsov was murdered in cold blood on the streets of Moscow.
The prominent Russian opposition party activist had been to dinner with his partner Anna Duritskaya, and the pair were on their way back to his apartment, crossing the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, just a stone's throw away from Red Square and the Kremlin, when a white car pulled up alongside them. The assailants fired four shots into Nemtsov's back, killing him on the spot and leaving a distraught Duritskaya shaken yet unharmed.
Although the incident is currently under investigation, the murder had all the hallmarks of the kind of contract hit that has plagued Russia throughout the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
Just a few weeks before his death, Nemtsov shared his fear that Putin would have him killed for his views. "I believe that Putin was the one who unleashed the war in Ukraine," he said to Russia's Sobesednik news website. "I couldn't dislike him more. I'm afraid he will kill me."Of course, Mr Putin immediately came out to publicly condemn the killing, calling the murder "vile and cynical", and claiming that he would assume "personal control" over the investigation to find those responsible.
To those who aren't aware of the Kremlin's murky past, Putin's words seem right on the money - outraged, upset and determined to bring justice to the killers - but in Russia, a country with a long history of controversial personalities with outspoken views being killed in mysterious circumstances, there's certainly a pattern emerging.
Although nothing has ever been proven to link Putin to any of the deaths, during his tumultuous tenure as Russian president, scores of his opponents have passed away and been killed in mysterious and violent ways. Here are some of the most notable:
Yuri Shchekochikhin, 2003
Investigative journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin made his name writing about and campaigning against what he believed to be corruption within the Russian government and Federal Security Service (FSS). He reported for newspaper Novaya Gazeta, investigating corruption scandals involving high-ranking FSS officers allegedly laundering money through the Bank of New York.
In July, 2003, just days before he was set to fly to the United States to meet with FBI investigators, Shchekochikhin was admitted to the government-controlled Central Clinical Hospital, where he died of a mysterious illness. Although his symptoms were consistent with poisoning by radioactive materials, the official reason for his death was given as allergic Lyell's syndrome.
Sergei Yushenkov, 2003
With Putin three years into his first term as Russian president, outspoken liberal politician Sergei Yushenkov was making a lot of noise, which was not looked on favourably by the Kremlin. His view was that Putin's rise to power in 2000 was the result of a Russian FSS-orchastrated coup d'état. As well as disbelieving Putin's methods, Yushenkov was also a strong and vocal critic of the First and Second Chechen Wars.
On the 17th of April, 2003, Yushenkov had finally obtained the registration needed to enter his Liberal Russia party into the parliamentary elections. Just hours after receiving the papers, he was shot dead near his house in Moscow. After a highly controversial trial, four men were convicted of the crime, including Mikhail Kodanev, a former co-chairman of Yushenkov's own party.
Paul Klebnikov, 2004
An American-born, Russian-speaking journalist and editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Forbes, Paul Klebnikov was most notable for his investigative work exposing murky post-Soviet business deals and corruption within the government.
On the evening of the ninth of July, 2004, Klebnikov was walking home to his Moscow apartment, when a car pulled up alongside him and the passenger shot him four times. Although he initially survived the attack, he later died in hospital. Three Chechen men were arrested for the crime but none were found guilty. The case is still unsolved.
Anna Politkovskaya, 2006
A writer and human rights activist who also happened to be a vociferous opponent of the Chechen War and the presidency of Vladimir Putin, Anna Politkovskaya released several articles in the newspaperNovaya Gazeta, that included scathing criticism of the government.
On the seventh of October, 2006, Politkovskaya was found dead in the lift of her apartment building. Just like Klebnikov before her and Nemtsov after her, she had been shot four times (twice in the chest, once in the shoulder, and once in the head). After a long and messy trial, in May 2014 five men were convicted of the murder, however it is still unclear who ordered it.
Alexander Litvinenko, 2006
Throughout the 1990s Alexander Litvinenko served as an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service, however in 1998, he and several of his colleagues publicly accused their superiors of ordering the assassination of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky (who we'll get to later). Litvinenko fled Russia to the UK, where he was granted asylum and worked with the British intelligence services.
On the first of November, 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized with symptoms consistent with poisoning. After a slow deterioration over 22 days, Litvinenko died in hospital. It was later found that he died of radioactive poisoning, with the UK blaming Russian Federal Protection Service member Andrey Lugovoy for the crime and requesting that he be extradited to the UK for trial. Russia denied the request, and the case is still ongoing.
Boris Berezovsky, 2013
After making an estimated $3 billion fortune from the privatisation of Russian oil in the 1990s former Putin sympathiser Berezovsky clashed with the Russian president over his proposed reform to the constitution, which would give the Kremlin the right to dismiss elected governors at their will. After a series of death threats - including the one flagged by Alexander Litvinenko, above - Berezovsky fled Russia for the UK, from where he continued his outspoken opposition of Putin.
On the 23rd of March, 2013, Berezovsky was found dead in his home in Ascot, UK. His body was found with a ligature around the neck, in what looked like suicide, apparently due to the financial difficulties he faced after losing a court case to Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. However the coroner in the case recorded an open verdict, stating that it was "impossible" to say whether he took his own life or if he was unlawfully killed.