February 28, 2015


[Russian authorities said on Saturday that they were investigating several theories about the crime, some immediately scorned as improbable, including the possibility that fellow members of the opposition had killed Mr. Nemtsov to create a martyr.]
MOSCOW — About two weeks before he was shot and killed in the highest-profile political assassination in Russia in a decade, Boris Y. Nemtsov met with an old friend to discuss his latest research into what he said was dissembling and misdeeds in the Kremlin.
He was, as always, pugilistic and excited, saying he wanted to publish the research in a pamphlet to be called “Putin and the War,” about PresidentVladimir V. Putin and Russian involvement in the Ukraine conflict, recalled Yevgenia Albats, the editor of the New Times magazine. Both knew the stakes.
Mr. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, knew his work was dangerous but tried to convince her that, as a former high official in the Kremlin, he enjoyed immunity, Ms. Albats said.
“He was afraid of being killed,” Ms. Albats said. “And he was trying to convince himself, and me, they wouldn’t touch him because he was a member of the Russian government, a vice premier, and they wouldn’t want to create a precedent. Because as he said, one time the power will change hands in Russia again, and those who served Putin wouldn’t want to create this precedent.”
As supporters of Mr. Nemtsov laid flowers on the sidewalk where he was shot and killed late Friday, a shiver of fear moved through the political opposition in Moscow.
The worry was that the killing would become a pivot point toward an even less pluralistic form of government for Russian domestic politics, already under strain from Russia’s unacknowledged involvement in the war in Ukraine and runaway inflation in an economic crisis.
“Another terrible page has been turned in our history,” Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the exiled former political prisoner, wrote in a statement about the killing.
“For more than a year now, the television screens have been flooded with pure hate for us,” he wrote of the opposition to Mr. Putin. “And now everyone from the blogger at his apartment desk to President Putin himself is searching for enemies, accusing one another of provocation. What is wrong with us?”
Russian authorities said on Saturday that they were investigating several theories about the crime, some immediately scorned as improbable, including the possibility that fellow members of the opposition had killed Mr. Nemtsov to create a martyr.
That line of investigation would examine whether Mr. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former first deputy prime minister and longtime leader of the opposition, had become a “sacrificial victim” to rally support for opponents of the government, the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.
The statement, the fullest official response to Mr. Nemtsov’s killing so far, said the police were pursuing half a dozen leads in the case, the highest-profile assassination in Russia during the tenure of Mr. Putin.
The committee also cited the possibility that Islamic extremists had killed Mr. Nemtsov over his position on the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, saying that security forces had been aware of threats against him from Islamist militants.
The committee also said that “radical personalities” on one or another side of the Ukrainian conflict might have been responsible. The statement said the police were also considering possible business or personal disputes as motives.
“The investigation is considering several versions,” the statement said. The first it listed was “a murder as a provocation to destabilize the political situation in the country, where the figure of Nemtsov could have become a sort of sacrificial victim for those who stop at nothing to achieve their political goals.”
This explanation echoed and elaborated on a statement posted overnight on the Kremlin website, which also characterized the murder as a “provocation.”
“The president noted that this cruel murder has all the signs of a contract killing and carries an exclusively provocative character,” the Kremlin statement said. “Vladimir Putin expressed his deep condolences to the relatives and loved ones of Boris Nemtsov, who died tragically.”
Mr. Putin, in a message to Mr. Nemtsov’s mother released by the Kremlin, said that “everything will be done so that the organizers and perpetrators of a vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Life News, a television station with close ties to the Russian security services, quoted a source as suggesting that Mr. Nemtsov was murdered in revenge for having caused a woman to have an abortion.
Law enforcement critics say this can serve as a smoke screen in high-profile cases, but it also reflects a Soviet-era policy for managing the security services, under which investigators are credited with making progress when a version of events is ruled out — giving the police an incentive to begin with a wide array of improbable theories.
After laying flowers on the mound, and kneeling in respect before the blooms festooning the sidewalk on a rainy, glum midafternoon, Anatoly Chubais, a co-founder with Mr. Nemtsov of the Union of Right Forces political party, scorned the investigators’ claim.
“Today, we had a statement that the liberal opposition organized the killing,” he said. “Before this, they wrote that the liberals created the economic crisis. In this country, we have created demand for anger and hate.”
Ms. Albats, who had discussed with Mr. Nemtsov his unfinished exposé of the unstated Russian military support for pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, said of this state of affairs in domestic Russian politics, “we are at war now.”
“Those who are believers in democracy, those who for some reason, back in the late 1980s, got on board this train, and had all these hopes and aspirations, they are at war today,” she said.
Alexandra Odynova contributed reporting.