Thousands of Russians, many carrying red carnations, on Tuesday filed past the coffin of Boris Nemtsov, the Kremlin critic whose killing last week, friends say, showed the hazards of speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin.Aides to Putin deny any involvement in killing Nemtsov, who was shot in the back four times on Friday within sight of the Kremlin walls. Nemtsov’s friends say he was the victim of an atmosphere of hatred whipped up against anyone who opposes the president.
“The shots were fired not only at Nemtsov but at all of us, at democracy in Russia,” Gennady Gudkov, a prominent Kremlin opponent, said in a speech delivered next to the coffin.”We never thought this could happen, but it did. Rest in peace my friend, your work will be continued.”Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was the most prominent opposition figure to be killed in Russia during Putin’s 15-year rule.
Most of those paying their respects were members or sympathisers of Russia’s liberal opposition, who feel deep alarm at Nemtsov’s shooting but represent only a minority of the Russian population. Polls show most Russians support Putin, despite a sharp slide in the rouble and international sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.But at the ceremony there was a show of solidarity for Nemtsov from several prominent figures who served with him under former President Boris Yeltsin and who still have influence within the business and political eliteNone of them criticised the Kremlin but their presence – led by Yeltsin’s widow Naina – showed that there are faultlines within the system of power built by Putin which could deepen if that system comes under more stress.
Two European dignitaries were unable to attend the ceremony because Russian officials would not let them into the country. Moscow said one of them, a former Latvian foreign minister, had for some time been subject to a travel ban for her “anti-Russian activities”.