Nemtsov: Yeltsin reformer turned Putin foe

28th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered Friday just metres from the Kremlin walls, served as a deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin before becoming one of the most prominent opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

Nemtsov, 55, was an accomplished orator and was one of the key speakers at mass opposition rallies against Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012.

He began his political life as a young reformer working in the industrial centre of Nizhny Novgorod, where he became regional governor at the age of just 32.

After serving in the post for six years, he moved up the career ladder during Yeltsin's presidency, coming to Moscow to serve as first deputy prime minister in 1997-98.

Yeltsin had reportedly considered Nemtsov as a successor in 1999, as he prepared to stand down due to poor health, but eventually picked then-prime minister Putin instead, believing him to be the moderate that Russia needed.

While Nemtsov initially backed Putin's presidential run, calling him "responsible and honest", he swiftly changed his mind and became one of his bitterest foes.

He was one of the founders of Russia's Union of Right Forces liberal party, and its leader in the early 2000s, serving as an opposition lawmaker in the parliament where he criticised Putin's initial steps to curb political freedoms.

Always tanned and flashing smiles, Nemtsov had a quasi rock-star image, wearing designer jeans and often wearing his shirt with an extra button open. He was known for his colourful love life and popularity with women.

Along with other opposition leaders, Nemtsov unsuccessfully sued Putin after he said Nemtsov and others "wreaked havoc" in Russia during the 1990s, pillaging it of billions of dollars.

- Hate figure for pro-Kremlin groups -

With the Kremlin's rhetoric focused on discrediting the political climate of the 1990s, Nemtsov became one of the most reviled faces among the opposition and pro-Kremlin groups routinely put him on their lists of "traitors" in recent years.

He had been a victim of hacking and wiretapping, and pro-Kremlin websites had written reports about his personal life and alleged affairs.

A physicist by education, Nemtsov worked in a research institute in the late Soviet era as a young man and was among a wave of academics and scientists to be swept up by the political upheaval of the perestroika reform movement, becoming a deputy in Russia's first post-Soviet lawmaking body.

Like most others in the opposition, Nemtsov was a prolific user of social networks, calling on Muscovites to attend an opposition rally on Sunday in his most recent blog entry.

In recent years he compiled a series of pamphlets exposing corruption under Putin, zooming in on the gas behemoth Gazprom, the residences allegedly owned by Putin, and most recently the misappropriations and graft during preparations for Russia's Olympic Games in Sochi last year.

Though he continued to be a key figure in opposition events in Moscow, Nemtsov gradually withdrew over the past decade as a younger generation of opposition leaders such as charismatic lawyer Alexei Navalny appeared.

His most recent post was as a regional lawmaker in the city of Yaroslavl north of the capital.

© 2015 AFP

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