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What does the death of Russian opposition leader Nemtsov mean for the West?

Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, a leading Russian opposition leader, was shot dead in Moscow on Friday. For more about the implications of his death, New York Times reporter Andrew Kramer joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Moscow.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR:

    For more now on the shooting death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — reporter Andrew Kramer has been following the story for The New York Times. He joins us via Skype from Moscow.

    So, for our American audience, who was he?

  • ANDREW KRAMER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:

    He was a very influential politician in the 1990s, very dashing, handsome, up-and-comer under President Boris Yeltsin.

    He embodied the hopes for democratic reform in post-Soviet period in Russia.

    He was the governor of a region, Nizhny Novgorod region, and then moved into national politics.

    Under President Putin, he was in the opposition, and he was part of a very small and beleaguered community of opponents of Mr. Putin, sometimes standing on the street holding signs, just with a few people.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And put in perspective for us, if you can, how he rose to prominence as a dissident. He got condolences from world leaders after he was killed last night.

  • ANDREW KRAMER:

    That's right. He was a very high-placed politician under President Yeltsin in the 1990s, and many of his colleagues from that time went into business or dropped out of public view but he, in contrast, dived into opposition politics and he was arrested a number of times.

    Amnesty International had counted him a prisoner of conscience. He was very high profile. Often traveled to Europe and met with world leaders.

    So, it's not a surprise that when this happened, there was quite a bit of support and outpouring of condolences for his family, from world leaders, including President Obama.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, the question for the investigation now is who is behind the murder, right? I mean, this was– it says it looks like a contract hit. But who has motives to kill him?

  • ANDREW KRAMER:

    The police have put out a number of theories today. Some of them are not considered very plausible.

    They had said that maybe Islamic militants were involved, or that the opposition had itself organized his murder as a way to create a martyr and invigorate their cause.

    Mr. Nemtsov's own colleagues have pointed the finger at the Kremlin and at the security services here in Russia.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, what does this do to any of the opposition? Is there an opportunity for them to band together?

  • ANDREW KRAMER:

    There's a potential for that happening. The opposition has been very fractured and marginalized.

    Now, they've agreed to unite for a memorial march tomorrow in Moscow. We'll see going forward how significant this event is. But many people here think that it's pivotal.

    This is a galvanizing and searing experience for the opposition. And now, there is a rallying cry to continue to support the causes that he had lived for.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, how closely will the West be watching what happens next?

  • ANDREW KRAMER:

    Very closely. This is being seen as a pivotal moment for Russian politics.

    Some are saying this suggests a return of fear to Russian politics, even of terror. This is really a new horizon for what's happening here.

    We've had dissidents arrested before. We've had them go into exile, and we've had journalists and human rights workers, obviously, die under mysterious circumstances.

    But this was a senior member of the Russian government in the 1990s, and he was shot very theatrically right in front of the Kremlin.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Andrew Kramer of The New York Times, joining us via Skype from Moscow — thanks so much.

  • ANDREW KRAMER:

    Thank you.

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