The murder charges in the Boris Nemtsov case are based on a hypothesis that has the look of suspicious overcomplication. Mr. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia who became a thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin, was not an obvious target for Chechen or other Muslim militants.
But a judge said in court on Sunday that Zaur Dudayev, a Chechen, one of the two men charged (there are three other suspects), had confessed, though Mr. Dudayev himself did not confirm that.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of Chechnya (a republic within Russia), praised Mr. Dudayev as a Russian patriot, and also a Muslim who was "deeply shocked" by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in France that caricatured the Prophet Mohammed. In the circumstances, that sounds like a double-edged sword – praising and implicating Mr. Dudayev in one breath.
In a blog post in January, Mr. Nemtsov had reportedly denounced the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris; he defended the publication of the cartoons, while not actually endorsing their content. In any case, repression and corruption in Russia, not Islamist terrorism, were Mr. Nemtsov's principal political concerns.
On the other hand, Mr. Nemtsov took considerable interest in Mr. Kadyrov, whom he criticized for corruption and oppression in the Chechen Republic. In fact, he said Mr. Kadyrov was a "psychologically very sick man."
Mr. Nemtsov's killing has a disturbing resonance with the murder of the investigative journalist Anna Politovskaya in 2006, who uncovered corruption in Mr. Putin's Russia, and in particular Mr. Kadyrov's Chechnya. Eventually, three Chechen brothers were convicted, and two of them were imprisoned, but there was no conclusion on who had paid for her contract killing.
Within 24 hours of Mr. Nemtsov's death, the government's spokesperson declared that his killing was the act of agents provocateurs. Such a rush to judgment does not inspire confidence in the Russian government's prosecution.
The Nemtsov and Politovskaya cases suggest that the authorities have a tactic that adds up to: "When in doubt, blame some Chechens."