NEWSWATCH: How Nemtsov’s killing puts Putin in the crosshairs

Nemtsov March of Mourning

[“How Nemtsov’s killing puts Putin in the crosshairs” – Los Angeles Times – Paul Stronski – ]

Writing in The Los Angeles Times, the Carnegie Endowment’s Paul Stronski considers prospects for Russian political turbulence following the assassination of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov.

Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov’s killing is not just a tragedy for Russia, but could be a harbinger of political turbulence. Commentary in the West implicitly blames President Vladimir Putin, highlighting the long list of Putin critics who have met violent deaths over the years. The focus has now turned to possible Chechen connections. However, the arrest of five men from the North Caucasus sheds little light on who ordered the attack, particularly since Chechens have served as easy scapegoats in previous high-profile deaths. What this discussion has missed is the larger question of whether the Russian political system is less stable than commonly assumed.

While one of the impacts of the Putin reign previously was supposed to have been a departure from some of the circumstances of the 1990’s, the Nemtsov killing raises questions.

Does Nemtsov’s death signal a return to levels of political instability in Russia that the Kremlin may have unleashed, but may no longer be able to control? Problems similar to those of the 1990s have returned and scapegoats are needed.

Concerns about instability come against a current backdrop of Putin not being able to deliver some of the economic potential that previously helped prop up his capacity to rule.

Unlike Putin’s first terms, economic growth and improved living standards are a thing of the past, replaced by falling oil prices, sanctions, inflation and salary cuts. Putin 3.0 has no positive agenda and state propagandists are trying to hide that fact, along with the human and financial costs of war, with vile rhetoric about threats emanating from Ukraine, the West and traitors and other “fifth columnists.”

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