Mur­der Inc. in Rus­sia

A court con­victed the men who killed Boris Nemtsov but failed to pur­sue those who or­dered the as­sas­si­na­tion.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE RULE of law means, at its most fun­da­men­tal level, that no one is above the law. The end of a trial in Moscow of five men ac­cused of tak­ing part in the mur­der of op­po­si­tion leader Boris Nemtsov shows quite clearly that that rule does not ap­ply in Rus­sia. The five Chechen men were con­victed of car­ry­ing out the as­sas­si­na­tion, but the peo­ple who or­dered the killing were not pur­sued and not found.

Nemtsov, then 55, was gunned down from be­hind as he crossed a bridge near the Krem­lin Walls on Feb. 27, 2015. He had once been a ris­ing young re­former as gover­nor of the Nizhny Nov­gorod re­gion in the early days af­ter the Soviet col­lapse, and later in the 1990s served as a deputy prime min­is­ter un­der Pres­i­dent Boris Yeltsin, at­tract­ing spec­u­la­tion as a pos­si­ble Yeltsin suc­ces­sor. By the third term of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov had be­come a net­tle­some critic of the pres­i­dent, pre­par­ing re­ports call­ing out cor­rup­tion among Mr. Putin’s cronies. Be­fore his death, he had spo­ken out pub­licly against “Vladimir Putin’s war,” the in­sti­ga­tion of an armed up­ris­ing in south­east­ern Ukraine.

The brazen, cold­blooded mur­der was shock­ing. Many friends and fam­ily have asked how Nemtsov could have been as­sas­si­nated so close to the Krem­lin with­out some kind of of­fi­cial con­nivance. The court was not so cu­ri­ous. Af­ter an eight-month jury trial, the five Chechens were con­victed, in­clud­ing Zaur Da­dayev, who was iden­ti­fied as the trig­ger­man. The other four served as ac­com­plices, the court found, and the group was promised 15 mil­lion rubles, or about $254,000, for the at­tack. The court did not pur­sue who may have or­dered the hit.

Nemtsov’s fam­ily has de­manded that in­ves­ti­ga­tors ex­am­ine the role of Ramzan Kady­rov, the Chechen strong­man, but he was not ques­tioned. Tes­ti­mony at the trial showed that a Chechen po­lice com­man­der who has since dis­ap­peared per­mit­ted Da­dayev to go to Moscow and pro­vided an apart­ment there. The com­man­der’s driver was the one who of­fered the pay­ment to the killers — he has also fled.

Such con­tract killings with im­punity have been a ter­ri­ble black mark on Rus­sia for more than two decades. On Oct. 7, 2006, the coura­geous jour­nal­ist Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death in her apart­ment build­ing. The men who killed her were caught and con­victed, but the per­son who or­dered it was never found. The list of such mur­ders runs long: Jour­nal­ists, politi­cians and busi­ness­men have been the most com­mon tar­gets.

The sad fact is that Yeltsin failed to build a state based on rule of law, and Mr. Putin did not se­ri­ously try. Though a Rus­sian ju­di­cial sys­tem ex­ists and post-Soviet laws are on the books, en­force­ment can at times be ar­bi­trary in the ex­treme, and the pow­er­ful en­joy an ex­alted po­si­tion, be­yond re­proach and be­yond ques­tion­ing.

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