Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, was all too prompt to assert that the killing of the prominent opposition figutre Boris Nemtsov last Friday was "100 per cent a provocation." This willful leap to a conclusion undermined any faint hope that the Russian government would allow or enable a thorough, scrupulous investigation of Mr. Nemtsov's death.
Mr. Nemtsov was ready, willing and able to say what he thought. He was a provocative figure, forthright in saying that Mr. Putin was a mafia boss who was lying about Russia's role and motives in the Ukrainian conflict. He was working on a document to prove the depth of Moscow's involvement.
It will likely never be known whether Mr. Putin demanded, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome dissident?" as did King Henry II regarding Thomas Becket.
Mr. Putin openly regrets the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but he has not seriously tried to reconstitute it. The current regime is too chaotic, capricious and kleptocratic for that. Soviet communism was a monstrous bureaucracy. Mr. Putin's state is monstrous, but less bureaucratic and organized.
Mr. Putin seems to want oligarchs so that he can shake them down, from time to unpredictable time – for example, Vladimir Yevtushenko of Sistema Group (which includes the important Bashneft oil company), long in favour with the President, but placed in house arrest last September and then released again in December – just in time to attend a banquet held by Mr. Putin for a group of oligarchs!
As for the late Mr. Nemtsov, he apparently had no wish to go into exile, like some oligarchs. After he lost actual power in the late 1990s, his life was for years devoted to being a thorn in the side of the government. He had been able to travel, but he also had an aged mother in Russia, as well as a Ukrainian girlfriend – she is now being detained in Moscow in the apartment of some friends, for reasons that are unclear.
In one of his last interviews, Mr. Nemtsov said that Mr. Putin was "totally amoral," in contrast to the Soviet Union, when there was "at least a system"; decisions were taken by a small group, the politburo, not by one man. Exactly.