Six months after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered 100 yards from the Kremlin, his killers — let alone those who directed them — have yet to face justice. The investigation appears to be stalling. One by one, the suspects have retracted their confessions. Investigators have been unable to question high-profile persons of interest from Chechnya, who appear to enjoy special protection.
Yet many of those who share responsibility for this crime are well known. The gunshots that ended Nemtsov’s life were not fired in a vacuum. They were enabled — indeed, encouraged — by an environment of hatred, violence and intimidation of those who oppose Vladimir Putin’s repressive policies and corruption, and his war on Ukraine.
Nemtsov was the first among them. He was vilified on government-controlled television as a “traitor,” a part of the “fifth column” and an “enemy of Russia.” Propagandists working for the Russian state told the public that Nemtsov was “bankrolled” by the United States; that he drew “inspiration for throwing mud at [his] country from abroad, from those who dream of swallowing, strangling and dismembering Russia”; that he was a “wretched thief” who “robbed Russia”; and that he would have “greeted” Nazi troops had they entered Moscow in 1941.
This was not journalism. This was state-sponsored incitement.
The Kremlin’s propagandists prefer to spend their money and their vacations in the very countries they tell the Russian people to despise. This hypocrisy must stop.
The United States has a federal law — the Sergei Magnitsky Act, adopted in 2012 in memory of a Russian anti-corruption lawyer killed in prison — that denies access to the United States and its financial system to those responsible for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals seeking . . . to expose illegal activity carried out by officials of the Government of the Russian Federation.” The actions of Putin’s propagandists in relation to Nemtsov meet this standard.
This year, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and I met with congressional leaders. We asked them to include on the sanctions list the names of eight state television employees responsible for incitement against Nemtsov . They promised to raise the issue with the Obama administration.
In a May 2014 interview, shortly after Putin launched his war on Ukraine, Nemtsov urged the West to sanction Kremlin propagandists for fueling the aggression. “These are not journalists,” he said. “They are fighters on Putin’s amoral battlefield, they incite hatred and provoke gunfire.” No one at the time could have imagined the level this hatred would reach.
Denying Putin’s propagandists the privilege of traveling to the United States — with the possibility that the European Union would follow with measures — is a poor substitute for justice that these people should be facing in Russia. It is, however, a tangible step . And it is the least the free world can do to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov.
Vladimir V. Kara-Murza is the deputy leader of the People’s Freedom Party, a democratic opposition party in Russia co-founded by Boris Nemtsov.