“My goal is to liberate Russia from crooks and thieves - from Putin.”-Boris Nemtsov
The first thing I notice about Boris Nemtsov is his beauty - I recognize that quality in his eyes that human rights activists share, an awareness of the danger overwritten by compassion - a love for humanity.
I have seen that look in the eyes of many of the people I interview on RADICALIZED Truth Survives - it’s a look my team shares.
This month marks the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Russia’s last great hope - Boris Nemtsov - the opposition leader who defied Putin, who recognized him as a thief, and who wanted to mobilize the Russian people toward a “peaceful path to democracy.”
“Unfortunately, the revolutions in Russia usually end in bloodshed,” he said, in a 2011 interview with Deutsche Welle. “I’m an opponent of revolutions and a supporter of peaceful change… We have to do everything we can to put Russia on a peaceful path to democracy.”
On February 27, 2015, on the eve of a protest Nemtsov was set to lead against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, he was assassinated in front of the Kremlin - four bullets to his back. His assassins didn’t have the courage to face him…
As I read Russia analyst’s Keir Giles latest book, Russia’s War on Everybody, I noted a passage where he wrote that Russia missed the enlightenment and the reformation, and I realized in that moment, we are still living in their dark ages.
At the time of the Deutsche Welle interview, another Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny - then a blogger who opposed Putin - was in prison. At the time of this writing, Alexey Navalny is in prison.
“If you are rich, you are a slave” to Putin’s crony capitalism, Nemtsov explained in a 2014 CNN interview with Anthony Bourdain. He said that Russia’s corruption is a problem for the United States, for Canada, for the United Kingdom.
“This is a sytem. Putin built a system,” said Nemtsov. “For example, if I am Putin, and you are a governor, if you are corrupted, you are loyal, right. Because if you don’t, you will be in a jail. And you know of such cases… And this is a problem for the Russian people. Russian people are in trouble because of this corruption. Money from the budget disappears - big difference between poor and rich, much bigger than in the States.”
In his words, I hear an echo of the future - as this corruption with a capital K has permeated the halls of kongress - as we learn the 2016 election was infekted with Russian operations that infiltrated our intelligence at the highest levels.
As Nemtsov speaks, his intelligence bleeds through. He was a physicist, and liberal politician, a reformist in the post-Soviet economy, who never wavered in his opinion of Putin. Even as his mother told him to stop speaking out - she knew Putin would kill him - he refused. His reports are vital to our understanding of Putin’s corruption…
The report that he was working on before his death - consisting of notes about Russian soldiers secretly fighting in Ukraine, detailing the takeover of Crimea - was published posthumously, a year after his murder.
‘A Monstrous Scam’
He had trouble finding anyone willing to print his previous report on state corruption - on the billions stolen from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a report ignored by state media. In the report, Nemtsov claimed $30 billion of the budget had gone missing in "kickbacks and embezzlement" to close associates of Putin. He said the Olympics had devolved into a "monstrous scam".
Nemtsov warned of Putin’s “reign of cynicism and lies,” and believed he would “fade into insignificance.” This was during the mass protests of 2011, after the world stood by watching Putin rig his own election, and the elections of his party - not allowing opposition candidates to challenge the party of Putin.
“He rigged 13 million votes for his party of crooks and thieves,” said Nemtsov, to Deutsche Welle. “And then blames Hillary Clinton for the demonstrations.”
Clinton spoke openly about her serious concerns about Putin’s election conduct, and demanded a full investigation.
So what did Putin do? He virtually assassinated Hillary Clinton. The most qualified presidential candidate in American modern history was virtually assassinated in a systemic operation by Putin - the gravity, scope, and details of which are still unfolding.
The death of Boris Nemtsov is not just a loss for Russia, it is a loss for the world. Fifty thousand people showed up to mourn his death.
“I feel badly for Putin,” said Nemtsov, in the Deutsche Welle interview. “He’s damned. He’ll wind up like Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Ben Ali- it’s gonna end badly for him.”
The reporter asked Nemtsov if he was worried it would end badly for him.
“It’s difficult and risky to be the opposition in an authoritarian system,” he said. “Living in Russia and being afraid go together - if I was afraid I would have left.”
He was also asked to comment on the ‘stability’ Putin brought to the country, after the ‘chaos of democracy.’
Nemtsov said: “This stability is the silence of the grave - if you think deathlike silence is what Russia needs then I am opposed to that.”
He noted that the veneer of stability was because “oil prices were high - Putin had nothing to do with that - that was the work of Saddam Hussein and Bush.” He ticked off all the things that Russia does not have under Putin - an independent judiciary, independent courts, a free army, real elections.
He said he wants the Russian people to never cast “a single vote for Putin - leader of crooks and thieves.”
“My goal is to liberate Russia from crooks and thieves - from Putin,” he said.
‘A Masked Dream’
I fell asleep last night while reading Nemtsov reports - the one about the billions of dollars stolen by “Putin’s crooks and thieves” in the lead up to the Sochi Olympics and his posthumous report on Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
I dreamed of a Russia, where all the people wear Nemtsov masks - as they go about their day - a symbolic statement that Russia had an opportunity for a peaceful future under the leadership of a man who dared to stand up to Putin and his corrupt allies.
As each Russian citizen wore their Nemtsov mask, it was tantamount to mass trolling of Putin, who’s been trolling the world by spreading poisonous unreality and crimes against humanity.
I realized when I awoke that I dreamed of the masks because of Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s latest Lucid column, which featured a photo of a death mask that Mussolini hung in the Palazzo Braschi in Rome in 1934. I described it as ominous threat in the center of Rome - a Kabuki demon mask - that cast an evil fascist eye on the people. I wrote, “The strongmen know what they are doing - they are trying to destroy our empathy.”
Perhaps I dreamed the future - a future when Nemtsov masks are worn as a reminder to Putin that his opponents may be murdered, but they live on in the hearts of the world, they speak from the grave of a peaceful future that doesn’t include a murderous band of crooks and thieves as leaders.
A world with empathy.
“I feel badly for Putin,” said Nemtsov, whose prediction that Putin will fade into insignificance was wrong, but whose prediction that it will end badly for him is undoubtedly so.
(Originally published in Bette Dangerous February 2, 2023.)
More info about Bette Dangerous - This magazine is written by Heidi Siegmund Cuda, an Emmy-award winning investigative reporter, author, and veteran music and nightlife columnist. She is the cohost of RADICALIZED Truth Survives, an investigative show about disinformation and is part of the Byline Media team. Thank you for your support of independent investigative journalism.