Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Kremlin’s Chinatown Conspiracy

The recent killing of Boris Nemtsov, literally in the shadows of the Kremlin, appears to be something out of a really awful B-grade Hollywood action espionage movie, straight-to-DVD, on a shoestring budget. It’s the type of flick you’d watch on a bleak, dark and bitterly cold (Siberian) Saturday night comforted by a big bowl of pretzels and some beers.

The plot is so comically formulaic and preposterous that not even the characters played by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder of The Producers (1968) could have dreamt this one up.  Imagine a dashing, handsome, rabidly anti-government maverick who has often boldly challenged the ruthless leader of a powerful country, albeit legally elected, who operates a repressive, almost mafia-like sovereign state. The maverick, accompanied by a beautiful young woman, is shot in the back several times on a bridge by an assassin, probably from a passing car.

The young woman is Ukrainian, from a country where Russia has unofficially assisted pro-Russia militants invade the eastern sector, and who claims she saw nothing the night of the murder.  Nonetheless she has returned to Ukraine and remains in hiding.

Then in only in a stupefying horrific movie, or a tragicomedy, would the dictator proclaim that he will personally take charge of the investigation after the murder of his adversary. As the saying goes, “You can’t make this stuff up.” What makes this situation so tragic is that these events actually happened and there doesn’t appear to be a hero emerging from this chaos.

Conspiracy theories abound everywhere and one is just as plausible as the next particularly when it comes to Russian politics. The critical questions are as follows:

(1) who or what group(s) has the most to gain from Nemtsov’s death?
(2) who planned the ‘hit’ and carried it out?

By the way, these are mutually exclusive questions.

Regardless of the leadership or opposition group(s), these groups are not monolithic in their thinking within which there are inner and outer circles, each one competing for influence and power.  Someone somewhere “sent a message.”

Another question to be asked is whether Nemtsov crossed a specific line in his anti-government rhetoric. Certainly there are many other opposition groups whose anti-government criticism is self-muted to avoid such violent blowback. Or was his murder a result of a history of cumulative actions which were gaining serious political traction which would have been a threat in the near future?

With his death there are others who can profit tremendously.  The obvious ‘usual suspect’ is Putin and his minions. The political situation seems so obvious that one could jump to the conclusion that he had to be behind it. Then again, the political circumstances are so obvious that someone else either on the left or the right is setting Putin up to make way perhaps for someone with more draconian ideas than Putin. As land baron Noah Cross (John Huston) lectured private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in the 1974 classic ‘Chinatown’, “Mr. Gittes, You may think you know what’s going on but you don’t”.

The next Russian presidential election won’t take place until 2018 when Putin can run for another 6-year term. Putin, whether or not he had a part in this assassination, has a formidable core of supporters and wishes to evoke czarist ideals. However even the czar was knocked from his pedestal a century ago crushed under a red revolution.

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