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Jamie Detmer is Opinion Editor for Politico Europe.
Eight years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov a disgrace.
“Maximum attention should be paid to high-profile crimes, including those with political motives,” he added. Tell Officials from the Ministry of the Interior. “We need to finally rid Russia of disgrace and tragedies like the ones we have witnessed and are witnessing recently. I mean the provocative murder of Boris Nemtsov in the center of the capital.”
However, the apparent assassination of Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, did not take place on the streets of Moscow near the Kremlin, but rather in the sky, a few hundred kilometers northwest of the Russian capital.
But it was a lesson for others to heed.
It is always useful to note Putin’s reaction to the recent assassination of a high-ranking figure. The Russian leader’s public reaction to the violent death of his former friend reveals a nervousness unseen before.
Of course, to mention Nemtsov and Prigozhin at the same time seems morally inappropriate – even obscene. Nemtsov was a liberal politician who had a measure of Putin from the beginning of his rule, and from 2000 onwards he has been an outspoken critic, opposing the regime’s increasingly authoritarian nature and highlighting widespread corruption, profiteering, and embezzlement.
Meanwhile, Prigozhin was a ruthless thug, criminal, and murderer, although he wrote children’s books. He was a man Sledgehammers are approved for use To cut the skulls of Wagner recruits accused of desertion and treachery.
And when Putin I confess After Prigozhin’s death on Thursday, he did his best to pay a lavish tribute to his former friend—not only burying him but praising him as the “talented businessman” who, when asked to do his part for the common cause, was. In televised remarks made during a meeting with the head of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk region appointed by Moscow, Putin said Prigozhin’s Wagner paramilitary group “made a significant contribution to the fight against Nazism in Ukraine.”
“We remember this, we know this, and we will not forget it,” he said. but It was Prigogine “A man with a complex destiny, who made many grave mistakes in his life.” In short, Prigozhin’s death was his fault — he made a huge mistake, but according to Putin, that doesn’t entirely erase what he’s done for Russia.
Crocodile Tears? Judas peck on the cheek? Maybe so. But combine these comments with Friday’s comments mandatory When all of Wagner’s fighters sign an oath of allegiance to the Russian state, there is a real sense of unease not seen before from Putin.
Putin is usually dismissive and disparaging, even as he nods sadly about a terrible crime.
Three days after the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, by a shot at close range outside her apartment in Moscow, Putin expressed regret for this “terrible” crime. “This cannot go unpunished.” He made the remarks during a trip to Germany and in the face of mounting international protests. However, he still couldn’t resist belittling the tireless reporter, saying, “I think journalists should know, and experts fully understand, that her ability to influence political life in Russia was minimal.”
Other times, when Putin really dislikes someone – or doesn’t care about the international reaction – there is no irony at all. Putin called former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal “despicable” and “traitor” in his public comments following the failed 2018 Novichok poisoning in Salisbury, England. “He was just a spy. A traitor to the country.” He said At a conference in Moscow.
That was Putin in his purest form, as he recalls in 1999 promised as prime minister to expel Chechen rebels wherever they are, including when they are “in the toilet, we will waste them in an outhouse at long last”.
Of course, when anyone dies – or is approached – by a bottle or bullet, bomb or missile, it has nothing to do with Putin. The Kremlin has it Named Any claims that the Russian leader had a hand in Prigozhin’s death are an “absolute lie”.
Skripal and Navalny? Nothing to do with those. Nor is it related to Denis Voronenkov — the former Russian Communist Party member and critic of Putin who was shot dead in Kiev in 2017, in what happened to then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. dubbed “An act of state terrorism by Russia.” And it has nothing to do with Russian businessman Pavel Antov and Lukoil chief Ravel Maganov, who fell out of windows last year. Both criticized the invasion of Ukraine, and the Kremlin derided any notion that their deaths were unexpected.
After all, despite Putin’s insistence in 2015 that all political killings must stop, poisonings, falling windows, suspicious suicides, shootings, bombings – and now a plane crash – continue with relentless regularity.
So shouldn’t Putin be somewhat concerned that his instructions to stop the killings are not being heeded? Is the Tsar too weak for his command to extend far? Even as an investigator, he appears to have failed miserably. Putin took charge of hunting down Nemtsov’s killers, even though the five men were born in Chechnya They were found guiltyand there was no luck in identifying who hired them.
It’s all an inside joke – Russians have learned over decades of communism, and now Putinism, to be able to keep two contradictory narratives in their heads at the same time, knowing what is right and what is appropriate. The Kremlin is telling them the official version they must accept — not that it necessarily expects anyone to really believe it, just what they should pay lip service to.
But perhaps the Kremlin wasn’t sure if that would hold this time. Hence the carrots and sticks, and hence the praise, burial, and the kiss of Judas. It also explains the two-month delay after Prigozhin’s ill-fated rebellion met its end, allowing time to nationalize the Wagner Group, dismiss recruits and officers, and assess the loyalty of the country’s dissident mercenary allies. Armed forces.
This hint of tension and readiness suggests a murder from another era – the shooting in 1934 of Sergei Kirov, an old Bolshevik and friend and ally of Joseph Stalin. For reasons that are not clear, Leningrad party chairman and Politburo member Kirov was shot and killed by a restless young communist, who had the appearance of a perfect fall guy. Despite efforts by Soviet and Russian historians to point fingers away from Stalin, According to historian Amy KnightThere is a “fairly convincing circumstantial case” linking Stalin to the murder of a potential and popular rival.
The circumstances of the crime implicate the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs—the predecessor of the FSB—and Knight does not believe for a moment that the security agency would have acted without Stalin’s express orders.
On this occasion, Stalin showed some nervousness as well. However, it is worth noting that he used the killing as a pretext to intensify political repression and launch the Great Purge.