Russians mark sixth anniversary of Kremlin critic’s murder

Hundreds of Russians and diplomats of Western countries marked in Moscow on Saturday the sixth anniversary of the assassination of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. 

Nemtsov was one of President Vladimir Putin’s loudest critics until he was shot and killed on a Moscow bridge near the Kremlin on February 27, 2015. 

Beginning Saturday morning, a steady stream of Russians and Western diplomats took turns laying flowers at a makeshift memorial at the spot where he was felled with four bullets.

“We come together in this place on this day every year to show the authorities that we have not forgotten and will not forget,” former prime minister and opposition politician Mikhail Kasyanov told AFP at the rally. 

“I am sure that what Boris fought for — freedom for Russians, their well-being and a dignified life — will soon come about,” he added.

Usually marked by a march through central Moscow, the opposition this year rallied instead at the makeshift memorial at the spot of his death that is regularly dismantled by the authorities, as restrictions on mass gatherings are still in place due to the pandemic.

The White Counter monitor, which tallies attendance at rallies, said 1,250 people had gathered by 1:30 pm (1030 GMT). 

Also laying flowers Saturday were the US, UK and EU ambassadors to Russia, among other Western representatives. 

US Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross wrote on Twitter that US Ambassador John Sullivan had marked the “brutal murder” of Nemtsov, whom she described as having been “dedicated to pursuing a better future for his country”.

“He remains an inspiration to many who strive for justice, transparency, freedom,” she tweeted.

In 2017, a court found a former security force officer from Chechnya guilty of Nemtsov’s murder and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Four other men were found guilty of involvement in the killing.

But the slain opposition politician’s family and supporters insist the authorities have failed to bring the masterminds to justice.

The sixth anniversary of his death comes as Putin’s current loudest critic Alexei Navalny was sent to a penal colony this week to serve a nearly three-year term he denounces as politically motivated. 

His arrest last month after he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent months recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on Putin, sparked mass protests that resulted in some 11,500 demonstrators getting detained.

The European Union has agreed to sanction four Russian officials over the crackdown on Navalny and his supporters.