Osgerby: Russian activist’s murder shows Putin’s fragile hold

BY PAUL OSGERBY | MARCH 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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So Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again managed to find himself in the locus of another swirling news headline’s — or should I say controversy. On Sunday, tens of thousands marched the streets of Moscow at their own risk in an act of solidarity and outrage for the slaying of an outspoken politician on Feb. 27.

Boris Nemtsov was a highly influential figure in Russia, known for often criticizing Putin on issues such as the Crimea annexation, austerity, and economic regression. His killer has yet to be found. Now, allies of the late Nemtsov are accusing the Kremlin for the coincidentally timed death.

One opposition politician, Dmitry Gudkov, summed up the controversy quite well: “It changed all of the country because of the people who have criticized the regime recently can be afraid of being imprisoned. But now … but now we should be afraid of being killed.”

There are two important, incising components from that quote that operate together. First, he has called Putin’s Russia a “regime” and that now there is fear of death for speaking against said government. When does the rhetoric of the word “regime” take hold in discourse? When the authority of a government threatens the well-being of its people who do not agree with its policies, particularly in the nature of killing opposition.

It’s honestly no surprise that this homicide could be linked with the Kremlin. There have been at least five other violent deaths of opposing politicians during Putin’s presidencies. Despite Putin’s denial of involvement and condemning the slaying, the corruption of nepotism and austerity for his regime has created fear in the people of Russia to voice their opposition to his ideologies.

Russia has already indicated its aggressive nature by inciting a civil war in Ukraine, creating fear that is spreading beyond just the Russian people, as evidenced in Estonia.

Voting for seats in Parliament has recently ended in the country, but the election was cast under the shadow of Russia’s controversial role in Ukraine. Estonia’s the Centre Party, which has close affiliations with Putin, is expected to gather a large portion of votes, putting many people at unease. Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas has even said Russia may seek to undermine more former Soviet states.

Estonia, where a quarter of the population is ethnically Russian, has noted numerous airspace violations by Russia, and in the last year, one of its security officials was imprisoned by Russia on grounds of spying. That’s not an especially endearing relationship.

Putin first became president of Russia in 2000, following political stints as prime minister as well as other official positions. He is a former KGB agent, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he claimed he wanted to lead Russia beyond its authoritarian communism. However, his current presidency is indicating he is just as iron-fisted as the former USSR.

The people’s march because of Nemtsov’s slaying is just as much a cry against the Putin regime, and its corruption, as it is a call for a different Russia — not necessarily a new one but without Putin.

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