Detectives investigating the murder of the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov six days ago have still not spoken to a single member of his immediate family despite President Putin’s promise that he would do “everything” to solve the crime, his eldest child said yesterday.
In her first interview since her father was shot dead on a bridge in front of the Kremlin on Friday night Zhanna Nemtsov told The Times that she believes his “cruel and barefaced murder” was a punishment for his political ideas. She has no confidence in the official investigation and little hope that the perpetrator will ever be brought to justice.
“I know that many people loved him,” she said. “I loved him more than anyone else in my life.”
Sitting in a café near her small flat in one of the oldest parts of Moscow, an eight-minute walk from the “mountains of flowers” that mark the spot where her father died, she said that his killing had been a complete shock to the whole family.
Even though her father shunned personal security and was sometimes arrested, the worst that she had ever imagined was a long spell in jail. Murder “was the last resort”, she thinks. “They couldn’t imprison him because he was a very honest person… they couldn’t find a reason.”
As a child she was often angry that politics dragged her father away from her, most of all when he became Russia’s deputy prime minister and was tipped as a likely successor to President Yeltsin in 1997.
Now aged 30 and a journalist with the independent business news channel RBC, she still spent as much time as she could with him. They lived five minutes apart and would often meet at each other’s homes, in the street, or in bars. They talked regularly on the phone, on Facebook and on WhatsApp.
She spoke to him for the last time on Friday morning.
The night of the murder her mother was staying with her. They had both gone to bed when the call came. “I heard her crying and yelling. I thought some robbers had entered our apartment.”
Outside it was raining heavily. They went to the murder scene but Nemtsov’s body had already been moved. She has returned every day since.
“It’s a very difficult time for me right now,” she said. “I think that I am strong, like my father but of course, not at all moments. I have no choice because I don’t have my father right now.
“I think it was a politically motivated assassination,” she said. She cannot say who ordered it. “If I blame somebody I should have evidence and I don’t have any evidence. It’s only my feelings but I’m absolutely sure that he has become a victim of his principles and of his deeds. I know that officials have expressed [the idea] that he was not dangerous but why was the leader of the opposition killed if he was not dangerous?”
The investigation has so far yielded no arrests, no murder weapon and, in Ms Nemtsova’s view, no plausible theory for who killed her father, who was at the time of his death the most prominent opposition politician in Russia not behind bars or in self-imposed exile overseas.
“I think that after this cruel and barefaced murder the Russian opposition is beheaded,” she said. Before it “people were frightened. Now they are 100 times more frightened”.
Tens of thousands of Russians turned out for a march through Moscow in Nemtsov’s memory on Sunday and thousands more for his funeral on Tuesday.
Many of them suspected that the assassination was either approved by Mr Putin or carried out independently by state security agents who were confident that he would not hold them to account.
Neither possibility has been examined by the official investigation or by Russian state media which have instead listed as plausible culprits: rival opposition figures, Western intelligence agencies, Islamic extremists, the Ukrainian security services, rogue nationalists on either side of the Ukraine conflict, business associates, or someone from Nemtsov’s famously colourful private life [he left four children by three different women and was with his latest girlfriend Anna Duritskaya, a 23 year old Ukrainian model, when he was killed].
Investigators have searched Nemtsov’s Moscow flat, taking away the laptop on which former colleagues say he was compiling evidence of Russia’s repeatedly denied military involvement in east Ukraine. They have also sealed and searched his office in Yaroslavl, the provincial city where he had plunged back into regional politics.
The Kremlin has portrayed the investigation as urgent and comprehensive.
Within hours of Nemtsov’s death Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced that the president had taken the investigation under his “personal control”.
On Saturday the Kremlin website published the text of a telegram of condolence from Mr Putin addressed to “Dina Eidman”, Nemtsov’s elderly mother, who turned 87 on Tuesday, the day of her son’s funeral. It was widely reported around the world.
Yesterday, in his first public remarks on the murder, Mr Putin told Interior Ministry employees, that “the most serious attention must be paid to high-profile crimes, including those with a political motive.” He added: “We must finally rid Russia of the disgrace and tragedy of the kinds of things we recently saw and experienced: I mean the audacious murder of Boris Nemtsov in the very centre of the capital.”
But Ms Nemtsova said that no one from government has spoken to any member of the family, other than the Moscow authorities who helped “a lot” with the funeral plans.
The investigators questioned Ms Duritskaya, who she reached herself by phone on Saturday and found to be in a “psychologically very difficult situation”, but they have contacted no one from Nemtsov’s large family.
“I don’t have any confidence [in the official investigation]” she said. “My mother, grandmother, me and the sister and brother of my father and his children have had no connections [with the enquiry] up to today.”
Her grandmother has not received the president’s telegram either, possibly because, unlike the British government, the Kremlin did not bother to check whether she was still at home in Nizhny Novgorod [she came to Moscow as soon as she heard about the murder] and possibly because her name has not been Dina Eidman for decades.
“Her surname is Nemtsova, not Eidman. It’s a deliberate mistake made by our authorities… I think to underline that she was of Jewish origin. She felt some sorrow that they put a different surname.”
Ms Nemtsova’s goal now is to ensure that her father is remembered as a “great man” and she plans to publish a book of his best FaceBook posts, the main medium of communication left to him after he, like all other Russian opposition leaders, was squeezed off television. The last decade of his life, spent fighting the increasingly authoritarian Putin “regime”, was a “great challenge” but he had retained his indomitable optimism.
Elected to the regional government in Yaroslavl he planned to campaign for the national parliament, the State Duma next year.
Instead she hopes he can realise one final posthumous ambition: a Nobel Prize. He always wanted one for physics, now “I think he deserves the Nobel Prize for Peace more than anyone else because he died a hero.”