Moscow’s ‘Spetznatz Day’ is Everyday: Conspiracy, Assassination, and Disinformation

Nemtsov was shot right outside of the Kremlin, a very secure place. Further, he often complained about his FSB tail, a surveillance squad, which shadowed him. Why didn’t they jump to the rescue? Also, a snow plow inched slowly behind the strolling couple, obscuring security cameras.


By Marek Jan Chodakiewicz l March 17, 2015


On Moskvoretsky Bridge in the shadow of St. Basil Cathedral the body of Boris Nemtsov is covered. Photo: AFP/Dimitry Sereryakov

The smoke had hardly cleared after the murder of the Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, on February 27, celebrated in Russia, ironically, as “Spetznatz Day,” when the Kremlin and its mignons paraded a slew of conspiracy theories regarding the culprits. None of them included President Vladimir Putin. In fact, Russia’s strongman growled that the killing was “a provocation.” By whom?

For the next week, the Kremlin media and pundits obliged, feverishly hunting the suspects. A frenzy of speculation ensued. But it concentrated on the dual boogieman of terrorism and foreign intervention which has been the hallmark of the Russian President’s system of controlling Russia since the advent of his power. The campaign engulfed TV, the Internet, and newspapers. Water cooler gossipmongering reached epic proportions. It was a disinformation offensive, pure and simple. It mobilized support for Putin and obfuscated the issue, while tapping into the pre-existing prejudices and stoking the fires of paranoia.

In essence, we were treated to the good old game of deception and denial. Whereas, in Soviet times, the Kremlin would have been able to cover up Nemtsov’s death, in the brave new world of the information revolution and social media, the post-Soviet leadership banks on the new fog of war: information overload. It is easier to bury the truth in the swamp of mendacious narratives. Hence, multiple stories and multiple messages serve the same goal – all power to the Kremlin. Since it is rather instructive to unveil the mastery of Putin’s propaganda machine and its themes, a brief review of alleged conspiracies follows.

Directing Disinformation

The most obvious culprit was the CIA, of course. And the CIA is a byword for all evil that is “the West,” not just the United States. According to this narrative, Nemtsov was a victim of the West. By assassinating the opposition leader, “the West” carried out a provocation to cast saintly Putin and his righteous Russia in a bad light. The politician’s death was supposed to generate bad press about Moscow abroad and to trigger a color revolution, another Maidan, perhaps, at home.

At least one propaganda show introduced the Scientology angle here (I kid you not), imputing the sect’s tentacles stretching from its alleged adherent Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenyi Yatseniuk to its alleged sympathizer Boris Nemtsov. This murky tale was not developed further. The viewers were left to find their own schizoid answers. But it was implied that with such powerful enemies they needed protection: Putin.

Obviously, the “mainstream” conspiracy theory continued, which the Kremlin media falsely credited to former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the CIA did not act alone. The “fascists” of Ukraine must have helped. Since Nemtsov supported free Ukraine and opposed the Russian aggression no one would ever suspect that the nefarious forces of Kiyv’s secret intelligence SBU were behind the plot. They knew that the murder would be blamed on Putin. They devilishly were counting on domestic and international outrage. Like “the West,” also the “Ukrainian fascists” wanted to destabilize the Russian Federation and overthrow its government. Hence, they colluded to this end.

But wait a minute: If it was not the government of Ukraine, then it was a Ukrainian extremist element, either nationalist or rebel. The former delivered on its vow to carry out terror acts in Russia itself. The latter murdered to silence a critic of Russia’s involvement in the war. On the same note, perhaps a disgruntled “Russian volunteer” returning from the front killed the oppositionist. After all, for years before the murder, the Kremlin media had worked overtime to depict the opposition politician as a “Fifth Columnist” and a “national traitor.” He had it coming.

A less prominent, half-whispered sub-plot of the “fascist conspiracy” allows that Nemtsov was shot by the “Russian patriots,” aka neo-Nazis. Why? For treason, of course. In addition to his stance on the conflict in Ukraine, he was of Jewish origin and a supporter of democratization, privatization, and Westernization, in the 1990s, as a governor of Nizhny Novgorod, federal minister for energy, and deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, successively. In other words, Nemtsov was a Jew and a dermocrat (i.e., “shitocrat,” a slang slur on democracy) who enabled the kleptocratic oligarchs, “all of them Jewish,” of course, to steal Russia blind and saddle it with Western nihilism, including “gay propaganda.”

In 2000, he even dared to endeavor to corrupt the Russian president himself. According to Gregory Feifer, Nemtsov tried vainly to broker a deal between the oligarchs and Putin, allowing each to carry on in separate spheres of economy and politics, respectively. The master of the Kremlin promptly reneged on it for the greater glory of Mother Russia (Russians: The People behind the Power, p. 39). To boot, the slain politician was a top leader of the opposition “Solidarnost” party, vocal critic of Putin’s post-Communist authoritarianism, and frequent hero of civil disobedience. A month or so ago, in a public interview for Ukrainian TV, he disrespectfully dared to call the Kremlin boss “ебнутый” (yebnutii) – which is the most vulgar way to describe someone raving mad. So it is no wonder that decent “Russian patriots” took the matter into their own hands.

They also must have been outraged by Nemtsov’s lifestyle: his ostentatious wealth, his alleged corruption, his many wives, his illegitimate children, and his hot model girlfriend, half his age, Anna Duritskaya. They say he stole her from a beau and paid for her abortion in Switzerland. And here the neo-Nazi plot neatly yields to a revenge killing by a jilted boyfriend, claimed some. She even may have been in on it, luring Nemtsov to his death on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge by the Kremlin. If it was not Duritskaya, there were plenty of others violated by Nemtsov, for instance the chanteuse Natalya, who effused on prime time TV that the politician had taken her virginity but bought her a pair of expensive running shoes. Presumably her tragedy would attract an avenger. And, thus, Nemtsov as a victim of the Western plot of the original narrative was now definitely replaced by a libidinous, kleptocratic dead beat dad. Who would not want to assassinate him?

Others disagreed. It was neither the “Russian patriots” nor a cuckold lover nor a femme fatale but, rather, the “Russian Mafia.” The opposition leader stole with the oligarchs in the 1990s. The oligarchs worked and feuded with the Mafia. Hence, Nemtsov had to have stepped on someone’s toes. The gangsters finally caught up with him. But who are the mafiosi? This leads us to the original conspiracy charge.

Churki

The Kremlin’s first official “whodunit” accusation pointed at, predictably, “the Muslims” and “contract killers.” That was the horse I bet on. Why? It was the most versatile and beneficial of accusations. Putin’s convenient message aimed at both foreign and domestic audiences. It reminded us that Nemtsov had condemned the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, so there was a religious motive to punish him. The West understandably fears Muslim extremism and correctly expects the worst from the Islamist terrorists. It is easy to elicit Western sympathy for Putin and his Russia by invoking the “Islamist terrorist peril.” Here the Jewish angle of Nemtsov’s origin also neatly fits in, sure to elicit sympathy in the West. For domestic consumption, the Muslim Chechens are everyone’s favorite whipping boys and make for the best possible culprits. First, according to Peter Pomerantsev, they are racially hated as churki, swarthy “black asses” (chyornye zhopy): “the ‘churok’ women will blow us up; the ‘churok’ men will take away our women; the ‘churki’ will rebel and the Russian Empire will be no more” (Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, p. 62). Second, they are perceived as Muslim extremists with a ruthless track record to prove so. Third, they are widely believed to control the most fearsome post-Soviet Mafia organization. Fourth, they are known to have supplied contract killers in high profile assassination cases, for instance the murder of the opposition journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and Chechen politician Ruslan Yamadayev in 2008, right after he left the Kremlin.

Lo and behold, barely a week after the assassination the secret police caught two Chechens: Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev. A third suspect detonated a grenade, killing himself to prevent arrest. Two others were also implicated. Dadayev initially confessed, but then he retracted his story. Others denied everything. The FSB has credited the arrests to Moscow’s reliable toady Razman Kadyrov, Chechnya’s president, who has recently been awarded yet another medal by the Kremlin, his recognition tellingly announced together with the accolade for a secret policeman-turned-lawmaker, Andrei Lugovoi, fingered by the British government as responsible for the polonium 210 assassination of FSB defector Litvinenko in 2006. At the same time, Kadyrov swore that Dadayev, a retired senior figure in the Chechen police battalion “Sever” (North), was “a Russian patriot” and “a good Muslim.” Although he had a good reason to hate blasphemy, he would never harm Russia. Hence, he must have been manipulated – by “foreigners,” of course. Thus, this was a provocation, as Putin “predicted” originally. And so the circle fuses. Case closed. Or is it?

It may well be that Dadayev and his comrades did assassinate Nemtsov. Perhaps they read Kadyrov’s mind before pulling the trigger. And maybe the Chechen president was channeling his Moscow boss. But there is more to the story. Nemtsov was shot right outside of the Kremlin, a very secure place. Further, he often complained about his FSB tail, a surveillance squad, which shadowed him. Why didn’t they jump to the rescue? Also, a snow plow inched slowly behind the strolling couple, obscuring security cameras. Therefore a grainy video does not show the act of killing but only a man jumping into a car which then sped away. It was not a drive by shooting, initial reports by the police notwithstanding. That was presumably Dadayev who allegedly confessed to the crime at a preliminary hearing. Putin called it “vile and cynical murder.”

Technically, anything is possible. But the case has the fingerprints of the siloviki, the presidential security men on it. And so does the slaying of the émigré Tajik opposition leader Umarali Quvatov in Istanbul on March 5, which has been nearly completely overlooked by Western media. Was it direct orders or telepathy by fawning courtiers? The Communist secret policemen who murdered “Solidarity” chaplain Jerzy Popiełuszko in 1984 lacked the explicit instructions but were convinced that their dastardly deed would please Poland’s dictator General Wojciech Jaruzelski. Was it coincidence that Politkovskaya was shot on Putin’s birthday? Probably we will not have the smoking gun implicating the Kremlin in the Nemtsov assassination any time soon. However, as America’s leading counterintelligence officer told me once, “the rule is that the Chekists are guilty until they prove otherwise.” It is a prudent rule.


Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is author of Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.