On Russian social media, liberal Moscow has struggled to wrap its head around something that seemed like it simply couldn’t happen, until it did. It had been years since Nemtsov, a rising star in Yeltsin-era politics, had been the standard-bearer of Western liberalism, and he could be a silly bon vivant. But he was deeply intelligent, witty, kind and ubiquitous. He seemed to genuinely be everyone’s friend; when I lived in Moscow as a journalist, he was always willing to jaw over endless glasses of cognac. And he was a powerful, vigorous critic of Vladimir Putin, assailing him in every possible medium, constantly publishing reports on topics like the president’s lavish lifestyle and the corruption behind the Sochi Olympics.
How could such a prominent politician ”” a founder of the opposition Solidarity Party, a sitting member of the Yaroslavl city parliament ”” be gunned down so brazenly, within steps of the Kremlin? “We didn’t kill members of government,” Gleb Pavlovsky, an independent political consultant who used to work for Putin, told me over the phone. “It’s an absolutely new situation.” Olga Romanova, a prominent opposition activist and a close friend of Nemtsov, said, “There are more cameras in that spot than there are grains in a packet of grain.” When I called her last night, she had just come from the scene of the crime, where her friend still lay on the ground, surrounded by laughing policemen. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a very close person murdered, lying on the pavement,” she said. “It’s terrifying.”
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Putin promptly called Nemtsov’s mother to offer his condolences and threw what seemed like the entire Ministry of Internal Affairs on the case. Yet we can be sure that the investigation will lead precisely nowhere.