- Nemtsov: A Variety of PerspectivesBoris Nemtsov: A True Russian Patriot
It is hard to believe that a year has gone by since Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed just yards from the Kremlin walls. Boris’ assassination reminded us that Russian critics and opponents of the Putin regime face significant danger, whether they live and stay in Russia or emigrate to seemingly safer places overseas (see Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in London in 2006). Boris chose to stay and fight for what he believed was right. He felt it his patriotic duty and responsibility to shine a light on the abuses and outrages of the Putin clique. And for that he paid the ultimate price.
Few people were as outspoken and courageous as Boris, a true Russian patriot who sought the best for his country. Boris believed that Russia had taken a seriously wrong turn under the reign of Vladimir Putin, and he regularly criticized the policies and authoritarianism that he felt were threatening his country’s future. He sought to expose the corruption and wrongdoings of the Putin regime and issued regular reports, whether on the Sochi Olympics or Putin’s palaces, revealing how rotten and kleptocratic the regime had become.
At the time of his murder, Boris was working on a report, “Putin. War”, on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thanks to a number of Boris’ friends and colleagues who bravely filled the void, the report was released, albeit posthumously for Boris, to expose the involvement of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, the extent of Russian casualties, the economic and financial costs of the war for Russia, and the role of forces sent by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. It is not clear whether Boris’ plans to issue the report played a role in his murder, but the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out. Despite repeated warnings that he was risking the ire of the Kremlin, Boris was determined to do what he believed was right. It is heartening to see other Russian patriots determined to bring his unfinished [End Page 29] work to fruition, a fitting tribute to Boris’ tireless efforts.
One of the issues Boris believed in passionately was the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act, which the U.S. Congress passed in 2012 and President Obama signed into law that December. On numerous occasions, Boris stressed that this legislation was not anti-Russian, but in fact was pro-Russian because it targeted individuals who engaged in gross human rights abuses, including the murder of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. There was no better spokesman than Boris to counter nefarious Kremlin propaganda painting the Magnitsky Act as anti-Russian. In the absence of justice inside Russia, Boris believed, the Magnitsky Act was the next best thing to providing some element of accountability. Because it targeted individuals, not the country, if people did not engage in human rights abuses, they had nothing to fear from being sanctioned through a visa ban and asset freeze.
Despite considerable risk back home, Boris became an active advocate for the legislation, meeting in Washington with Members of Congress and their staffs. Boris knew that going after a corrupt, abusive Russian official’s ability to travel to the United States and his ill-gotten gains was risky to his own safety. But he believed it was the right thing to do, and no risk would dissuade him from pursuing justice.
Along with others, he and I on several occasions pushed publicly for the Magnitsky legislation, and it was clear to me that Boris’ advocacy made a big difference. He had an excellent reputation among Senators and Representatives, and his cogent presentations convinced Members that voting for the Act was the best way to press for rule of law and accountability in his homeland.
Throughout the years, I appeared several times with Boris on panels and at meetings, including the rollout in Washington of his report, “Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi,” which detailed allegations of rampant corruption in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I last saw him in Sweden at an annual gathering on Visby Island in October 2014, four months before...