Chechnya policeman ‘confesses’ involvement in Nemtsov murder
A Russian court on Sunday charged two men with the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov, including an ex-police officer from Chechnya who confessed to his involvement in the brazen assassination.
Five suspects appeared in a court in central Moscow a little over a week after Nemtsov, a longtime critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot four times in the back as he strolled with his girlfriend along a bridge in full view of the Kremlin.
Court spokeswoman Anna Fadeyeva told the RIA Novosti news agency that three of the men who were not charged were only considered suspects at this stage. All five were remanded in custody.
Zaur Dadayev, a former deputy commander for the Chechen police, and Anzor Gubashev, who worked for a private security company in Moscow, were arrested on Saturday in the republic of Ingushetia, which neighbours Chechnya.
They were both charged with murder but Gubashev denied involvement.
“The participation of Dadayev is confirmed by his confession,” said presiding judge Nataliya Mushnikova.
However no information has emerged as to the possible motive the men could have had in killing the charismatic opposition leader.
His allies believe his assassination was a hit ordered by the top levels of government determined to silence dissenters. The allegation has been strenuously denied.
On Sunday the Investigative Committee announced three further arrests in the case: Gubashev’s younger brother Shagid, Ramsat Bakhayev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, who news agencies reported had also been arrested in Ingushetia.
The men are all from the volatile northern Caucasus region where Russia has fought two devastating wars against Chechen rebels and where security forces continue to clash with Islamist insurgents.
“The suspects denied their involvement in this crime but investigators have proof of their involvement,” a representative for the probe told the court of the three.
The Interfax news agency meanwhile cited a source in law enforcement as saying that another suspect sought by police over the murder had holed himself up in the Chechen capital Grozny on Saturday and blown himself up with a grenade after throwing another at police surrounding the building.
– Russia has ‘crossed the line’ –
The audacious murder in one of the most secure parts of the Russian capital sent shivers through an opposition which has seen several critics of the Kremlin killed in recent years and accuses Putin of steadily suppressing independent media and opposition parties.
Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, in an interview with CNN from Germany, said the murder was obviously “politically motivated.”
“I think that now, Russia has crossed the line after this murder, and people will be frightened to express their ideas which contradict … the official standpoint.”
Her comments echo those heard from Kremlin critics since the killing such as activist Alexei Navalny, who accused “the country’s political leadership” of ordering a hit on Nemtsov.
Nemtsov had long complained of being followed and having his phone tapped.
Putin has described Nemtsov’s killing as a tragedy that brought disgrace on Russia and vowed that everything would be done to bring to justice those who committed a “vile and cynical murder.”
– Fifth column –
Many Russians say that failing direct involvement, Putin is to blame for whipping up hatred against the opposition by regularly referring to them as a “fifth column” of traitors and spies — a message spread by all-powerful state media.
He first used the term fifth columnist — which originated during the Spanish civil war and refers to a group of people undermining a nation from within — after last year’s annexation of Crimea which plunged Russia’s relations with the West to Cold War lows.
Investigators have suggested Nemtsov’s killers wanted to destabilise Russia while politicians have referred to a western plot.
But investigators are also probing the possibility he was assassinated for criticising Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict or his condemnation of January’s killings at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris by Islamist gunmen.
At the time of his death, Nemtsov was believed to be working on a study detailing the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, a claim the Kremlin denies.