Russian PhD researcher facing criminal charges for thesis on wartime traitor, General Vlasov
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
You would have never known Yevgeny Khaldei was one of World War Two’s greatest frontline photographers. Modest and unflappable, the short, stocky man pensioner lived in genteel poverty in a small one-bedroom apartment in Moscow’s north western suburbs.
And yet this was a man whose iconic images of the Red Army’s punishing and bloody campaign to push the Nazis back across Eastern Europe as far as Berlin, were as famed worldwide as he himself as a personality was unknown.
His photograph of frontline troops raising a red flag over the Reichstag in May 1945 days before the final German capitulation became the defining, if controversial image of the defeat of Nazism. Criticised for staging the photo two days after Red Army soldiers had briefly raised the hammer and sickle as fighting still raged, Yevgeny’s photo was recreated a couple of days later after he had flown back to Moscow with rolls of films and had his uncle, a tailor, run up a large new symbol of Soviet victory from an old red table cloth.
Yevgeny had always defended the image – believed to have been taken on direct orders from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – insisting it merely recreated a true event. That he scratched out additional, looted, watches seen on the forearm of one of the soldiers he recruited for the picture and artificially darkened clouds of smoke in the background when developing the images, was perhaps understandable at a time when his job as TASS photographer with the rank of Red Army lieutenant was to both record the truth and do his bit to maintain Soviet morale.
The image of the Soviet soldier raising a flag over the Reichstag after-touch. Source: RIA Novosti
The original shoot by Yevgeny Khaldei. Source: AP
Other images, such as Red Army troops marching over swastika-bedecked flags in a street outside burning houses in Austria in 1945, may also have been staged, although judging by the behaviour of Ukrainian at Kiev’s Maidan Square in February 2014 where I witnessed ordinary people wiping their boots on the blue flags of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, it is a natural human tendency.
The paired photos Yevgeny took in a park in Vienna of a Red Army officer looking on with undisguised repulsion at the bodies of an SS man, his dead wife, son and daughter – whom he had evidently shot before taking his own life on a park bench – is a disturbingly arresting image. As is the powerful portrait of a Jewish man and woman, their coats still displaying the yellow stars the Nazis obliged them to wear, pictured in Budapest in January 1945 gazing at Yevgeny’s lens with utter bewilderment after he had told them in Yiddish they were free and could tear off the dreadful symbols.
But Yevgeny volunteered none of these stories immediately.
The Ukrainian-born photographer, whose mother had died a year after his birth in 1917 in an anti-Semitic pogrom in Yuzovska (now Donetsk) when a bullet passed through Yevgeny’s body striking her as she clutched him protectively to her breast, was not given to boasting of his achievements.
But over a glass or so of green label Moskovskaya crystal vodka – a small dish of sliced apples to one side as zakuska to accompany the shots – his warm brown eyes, magnified behind large reading glasses, would light up as he related his favourite salty anecdotes and wartime stories.
Yevgeny Anan’evich was not given to wearing a chestful of ribonned war medals – though he had many including to his name, including the Order of the Patriotic War and the Order of the Red Star – but was happy to show visitors to his small Soviet apartment prints and original negatives from the thousands of rolls of film he shot during a career that began as a teenager recording scenes in Donetsk (by then known as Stalino in honour of the Soviet leader) on a homemade camera in the 1930s.
But first those who found their way to his suburban flat would need to drink with him and listen to a few jokes.
“A Jew goes to a prostitute and asks her how much she charges,” he told me on my first visit to him in 1996, just a year before his death at the age of 80. “‘Here’s the deal’, she says. ‘I charge one rouble on the way in, and one rouble on the way out. You enjoy yourself. I’ll keep count.'”
There followed a version of a joke one sensed he had first told on the frontlines in the 1940s, ending with a punch line about the “little Jew” raising his finger and saying “But I’ve only got one rouble.”
It was typical Yevgeny: cheeky and endearing. A fluent German speaker, he was also an old-fashioned ladies’ man. I once saw how a beautiful, statuesque but tough, German TV film editor melted when he asked to stroke her exposed navel, a gold tummy button piercing evident on her well-toned torso.
Yevgeny’s images, which included haunting portraits of top Nazis in the dock at the post-war Nuremberg Trials, have been hailed as among the greatest photography of World War Two. His post-war work for TASSand later Pravda never achieved the same heights, although his portraits of Stalin, Molotov, Kruschev and pioneer cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, along with studies of the economic, military and social achievements of the times, retain the studied beauty of his earlier images.
Denied copyright to his own photographs, which were often published un-credited, Yevgeny never gained the fame of many of his contemporaries such as American photographers, Margaret Bourke-White and Robert Capa, who presented him with a Speed Graphic camera when they met during the Nuremberg Trials.
During Nuremberg trials. Yevgeny Khaldei is pictured left. Source: RIA Novosti
Interest in his work picked up towards the end of his life and in 1995 at the Perpignan International Festival of Photojournalism he was award the title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, one of France’s highest cultural awards. A French TV channel also ran a documentary film about his life and work.
He continued working until his death, processing rolls of film in his own darkroom at home using equipment dating back to the war years.
It was in that darkroom that I sat with him one day when he showed me the original roll of 35mm black and white stock he used to shoot the Reichstag picture – complete with the frames where Soviet censors, angered by visual evidence of looting, had used a pin to scratch off the several “additional” watches lining the Red Army soldier’s forearm.
His inclination was to give visitors photos and it was only with some persuasion that he would take a proper fee for printing and signing his beautiful images. Today original copies of his works fetch thousands of dollars and in November 2014 the 1937 Leica III he used to capture the famous Reichstag shot was sold by Bonhams in Hong Kong for over $220,000.
Robert Yellowless, who owns the Lumiere Gallery in Atlanta, which feature work by Yevgeny alongside other world famous photographers, said he was, “an exceptional talent, whose stories on film capture the human essence of the war.
“His work attracts visitors to our gallery from the U.S., Europe and Russia, who share a common interest in the period and appreciate a great photographer’s accomplishments.”
March 12, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been seen in public since March 5.
And with little further information to go by — his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said simply that there is“no reason to worry” and “everything is fine” — some have naturally assumed the most drastic possible thing that could have happened is what did happen.
“Putin umer” or “Putin has died,” is now trending on the Russian Internet.
It ain’t over. pic.twitter.com/TZXbljM5lZ
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 12, 2015
There’s also a website that allows users to ask, “has Putin died?” (the automated response varies with responses like: “No, he’s alive” and “No, that’s not why it stinks in Moscow.”)
Умер ли Путин? http://t.co/q8NGQ8bccspic.twitter.com/kChoGGkhBE
— Павел Федяев (@forcelife1) March 12, 2015
And perhaps because people find the very notion rather unlikely, social media users have been trying to imagine what a world without Putin — or a heaven with him — might look like.
Has Putin Died? No idea, but Twitter’s already buried him. RT@MrLatis #ПутинУмер? Не знаю, но твиттер его уже похоронил
— Hannah Thoburn (@HannahThoburn) March 12, 2015
It’s likely that he would have a mass funeral just like Vladimir Lenin, but would Putin be presented in his favored bare-chested uniform?
Shocking footage from Putin’s secret funeral. #ПутинУмерpic.twitter.com/RGuki3IxY9
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 11, 2015
Would the outpouring of grief on state TV channels match the level of emotion shown when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died?
And who would reach out to him first in heaven? Perhaps his longtime friend and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?
-Hello, Putin, is that you?
-Yes, and who’s this?
-It’s Chavez. Want to meet up?
– ALLO PUTIN ETO TI? – DA, A KTO ETO? – ETO CHAVEZ. VSTRETIMSYA?
— Все Плохо (@sranysovok) March 12, 2015
But if Putin really were at death’s door, would he really show up for his final meeting on time? (The Russian president is notoriously almost always running late)
Translation: It’s already nearing noon…and still no Putin!
Уж полдень близится…….а Путина всё нет!pic.twitter.com/WrPzpGOuTq
— Serge N (@sergej_us0mf) March 12, 2015
And after all, dying isn’t really in his interests.
-Putin can’t die.
-It’s not profitable.
– Путин не может умереть. – Почему? – Это ему не выгодно.
— Ales Pilecki (@alespilecki) March 11, 2015
Really though — is this something to even joke about?
Ugly & macabre tweeting from the enlightened liberal side of the Russia House using #ПутинУмерpic.twitter.com/5QAstXY75y
— IvorCrotty (@IvorCrotty) March 11, 2015
Besides, his press secretary, Peskov, has said despite his disappearance from public view he’s still “holding meetings all the time” and even “breaking hands” along the way.
— Sergey Elkin (@Sergey_Elkin) March 12, 2015
— Glenn Kates
Unconfirmed Russian Internet rumors that Vladimir Putin is dead
DEBKAfile reports that Russian websitesThursday morning began running unconfirmed reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had suddenly died. This has not been confirmed by any official in Moscow. But a short announcement of Putin’s death was seen briefly on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s website early Thursday, only to be removed after 20 minutes. According to officials in Moscow, Putin was expected in Kazakhstan Thursday for meetings with its leaders, but failed to turn up.
Moscow (AFP) – Where is President Vladimir Putin? The Kremlin was forced Thursday to insist the Russian leader was in good health as rumours swirled online over his week-long absence from the public eye.
Putin was last seen in public on March 5 when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and, ever since he postponed a trip to Kazakhstan this week, Russians have grown increasingly curious about what their usually omnipresent leader is up to.
The 62-year-old nurtures a fit, tough-guy image and rarely takes time off.
“There’s no need to worry, he’s absolutely healthy,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Echo of Moscow radio station on Thursday.
Putin also postponed a meeting to sign an alliance agreement with the leader of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, and did not show up at a meeting of the FSB security agency.
Peskov said the agreement with the rebel region may be signed next week and that Putin’s attendance at the FSB meeting was not planned.
He said Putin was busy with Russia’s economic crisis and has “meetings constantly, but not all meetings are public.”
Asked if Putin’s handshake remains firm, Peskov laughed and said: “It breaks your hand.” However he evaded a question on when Putin would next be seen on television.
“As soon as the sun comes out… and it starts smelling of spring, people start getting delusions,” Peskov told TASS agency.
Adding grist to the rumour mill, the RBK news website claimed that Kremlin footage purporting to show Putin meeting regional governors and women on International Women’s Day last week had in fact been filmed earlier. Peskov denied this.
The last time the popular Russian strongman’s health prompted such speculation at home was when he cancelled a number of foreign trips in 2012 after appearing to have developed a limp, which the Kremlin said was due to a sports injury.
Whispers in Moscow about a leader’s health are nothing new, with Putin’s ailing predecessor Boris Yeltsin and former Soviet supremo Leonid Brezhnev the constant targets of rumours over their health.
“Has Putin died?” asks one website where the question is the only thing appearing on a blank page above a button which users can click to check, yielding responses such as “No” and “Still No”.
An explosion that left at least one man dead and more than 30 people trapped today in a coal mine in war-torn eastern Ukraine was not caused by shelling, authorities say.
The blast, 3,280 ft underground at the Zasyadkov mine in Donestk – a city under the control of rebels from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) – is close to the conflict’s frontlines.
Rebel and government officials said that 230 men were working in the pit at the time of the explosion. Between 30 and 32 men were trapped, according to reports. One witness reported seeing five bodies.
Workers from other parts of the pit were enlisted to clear rubble. Operations were hampered, however, because one of the three entrances to the mine – the entrance closest to where the blast happened – has been forced closed by artillery shelling during fighting between rebel forces and the Ukrainian army.
The war in the region, now under a ceasefire brokered by European leaders, Moscow and Kiev, has claimed more than 6,000 lives.
Separatist authorities blamed the blast on a combustible mixture of methane and air, a common cause of industrial mining accidents.
A mine rescue services representative, Yuliana Bedilo, confirmed that one man had died. Rebel officials say 198 had been evacuated, but the fate of as many as 32 others remains unknown.
One injured miner, Igor Murygin, suffered burns over a fifth of his body and said he had been blown off his feet by the blast.
Speaking to reporters at a hospital in Donetsk, he said: “When I came to, there was dust everywhere. People were groaning.”
He added that the mine had newly installed equipment that appeared to be working normally.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, said in Kiev that rebels had prevented a team of 60 Ukrainian rescue workers from reaching the mine to provide assistance. But leading rebel representative Denis Pushilin denied that Ukrainian authorities had offered any help.
“If we truly need assistance, we will turn to Russia,” Pushilin was quoted as saying by the Donetsk News Agency.
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.”
A Russian tank commander injured in battle has exposed his country’s involvement in Ukraine, amid US claims that the Kremlin has 12,000 troops fighting the Kiev government.
Speaking from a hospital bed in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Dorzhi Batomunkuyev, 20, told a reporter from the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that he had served in a rebel unit that was “90 per cent Russian”.
On February 19, the gunner and his comrades were engaged in combat with Ukrainian army tanks at Debaltseve, a key railway junction captured last week by the Russian-backed separatists.
“I hit an enemy tank, which exploded,” he told the paper. “Got on another tank, but . . . we pulled back to a different location and they shot us up.
“There was a deafening crash. I opened my eyes and could see only fire, a very bright light. I could hear the sound of cordite charges exploding.” The tank’s hatch would not open. He continued: “The only thought I had was that we would all die. I felt my face on fire, headset burning, I put my hand to take off the headset and saw, mixed with leather, skin from my hand.”
Rescued by comrades in an armoured car, Gunner Batomunkuyev was taken to an intensive care unit. Since his interview with the paper last week, he has been moved to a military hospital in Rostov, southern Russia.
Like all Russian regular soldiers fighting in Ukraine, Gunner Batomunkuyev volunteered to be sent there. He had signed up under a three-year contract last June after completing his service as a conscript. Some men refused to go to Ukraine and although he did not know their fate, he suggested they did not face punishment.
It was clear from the beginning last autumn, when preparations began for them to move out from their Siberian base to a collection point in the Rostov region, near Russia’s border with Ukraine, that secrecy was paramount: divisional signs on the battalion’s tanks were painted over, identifying uniform patches and badges removed and paybooks left behind at base.
Units from Siberia and Russia’s far east rolled through the vast country by rail, greeted by cheering locals at villages and towns.
His unit crossed the Ukrainian border under cover of darkness early last month and, after a stopover in Donetsk, began to fight its way to Debaltseve. Although he said that no one in his unit was killed in the fighting, he described men losing limbs and, like him, being burnt in tank battles.
He claims that they avoided contact with Ukrainian civilians and did their best to minimise casualties, although he nearly shot a woman wearing white, mistaking her for a Ukrainian soldier in winter camouflage.
He told the paper he had no regrets and did not blame President Putin, who continues to insist that Russia does not provide military help to the rebels.
“I have nothing against him,” the young soldier said with a laugh. “He is certainly an interesting person and cunning — telling the entire world there are ‘no troops here’.”
Ben Hodges, the US Army Europe commander, said that Russian forces in Ukraine consist of military advisers, weapons operators and combat troops. A further 50,000 are massed on the border, the general claimed. He has urged the White House to arm Kiev.
Russian opposition activists plan to publish significant elements of a report detailing military involvement in Ukraine that was being prepared by Boris Nemtsov before he was shot dead in Moscow.
Police investigating the opposition leader’s mafia-style killing on a bridge near the Kremlin searched his flat at the weekend and seized a computer believed to have contained the only copy of the report.
Ilya Yashin, another prominent member of the opposition, has toldThe Times that evidence collated by Mr Nemstov — including details obtained from parents of serving Russian soldiers who have died on Ukrainian soil — had been safeguarded, and a version of the report would be published.
Mr Yashin revealed the existence of the report after Mr Nemstov’s funeral, at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery, which was attended by his family, members of the opposition and hundreds of ordinary Russians.
“Nemtsov told me he was going to start work on a report entitledPutin and the War that would prove that Russian forces were present in Ukraine [and] took part in clashes with Ukrainian forces,” he said.
“Nemtsov told me that he was planning a trip to Ivanovo [northwest of Moscow] and that he planned to put the material together within a month in a report that would be distributed in a large number of copies,” he said.
“I have some ideas how to pick up the pieces of his report, but this is not something that can be done in a few days.”
He added that the issue had been complicated by the fact that investigators have seized Nemtsov’s documents, his computer and sealed his flat. “We have no way of getting to those documents, but have ideas about how to resurrect these documents and shall do that as soon as possible so that we can finish the work that was begun.”
Mr Yashin added that although it was too early to say how the opposition would respond to Mr Nemtsov’s death, he hoped that it would serve to unite different factions.
“Competition between different groups within the opposition only leads one way — to jail,” he said.
Reflecting on Mr Nemtsov’s death, Mr Yashin said : “He could have lived a comfortable and easy life. He chose a different path, He has left us as a hero.”
“We came because we feel ashamed of our country, of our people, that we let such a thing happen,” said Dmitry Afanasyev, another mourner . “Putin is to blame. But we are too.”
Vadim Prokhorov, Mr Nemtsov’s lawyer, also said that the politician was preparing to expose Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict. He had turned to police after receiving anonymous death threats on social media, but the authorities had done nothing to investigate them. “Soon I’ll kill you,” read one such message.
Thousands of Russians queued for hours today in the raw Moscow cold to pay their final respects to the murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
They shuffled past long lines of fur-hatted police, through airport-style metal detectors and behind ranks of television news reporters, including those from the pro-Kremlin channels whose vitriolic propaganda many of the mourners blamed for Nemtsov’s death.
Then they filed slowly, one by one, into the hall where the open coffin lay.
Four days after he was shot four times in the back while crossing a bridge below the Kremlin with his girlfriend, Nemtsov’s handsome features looked undisturbed in the white-lined casket .
His silver hair was neatly parted. He wore a white shirt, open at the collar, and a black suit. His fingers gripped a wooden cross. Black and white portraits of Nemtsov decorated the brick walls of the Sakharov Centre, a museum and cultural space commemorating the Soviet-era dissident and Nobel Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov.
Church music played in the background and the perfume of flowers laid by each of the mourners, mostly red carnations, filled the room. His mother, who turned 87 today and had feared that President Putin would have her son killed, listened with other family members to the eulogies. Nemtsov’s ex-wife Yekaterina Odintsova, with a black headscarf pulled over her blonde hair, stood near by.
Mr Putin has condemned the killing and taken personal charge of the investigation according to his spokesman. Opposition figurers have condemned the murder enquiry as a sham because it is not examining the possibility that the state security services were involved.
Russian state television has begun a multi-pronged backlash against suggestions that the Kremlin might be to blame for the crime, blaming western intelligence services, Islamic extremists, Ukrainian nationalists or the Russian opposition instead.
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under President Yeltsin, was the most prominent opposition figure to be murdered in Russia during Putin’s 15-year rule.
Mr Putin did not attend the ceremony and will not be at the burial service at a Moscow cemetery this afternoon. Arkady Dvorkovich, a deputy prime minister from the government’s increasingly sidelined liberal camp, represented the Russian authorities.
Representing Britain was John Major, the former prime minister, who was among the first dignitaries to arrive.
Outside light snow began to fall and the short speeches made next to the coffin were broadcast to those still waiting.
“The shots were fired not only at Nemtsov but at all of us, at democracy in Russia,” they heard Gennady Gudkov, another prominent Kremlin critic, say.
“We never thought this could happen, but it did. Rest in peace my friend, your work will be continued.”
Sleek diplomatic cars flying the flags of the United Kingdom, European Union, France, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Romania and Norway filled the road.
By noon, the queue of people wanting to lay flowers at Nemtsov’s coffin snaked all the way back up the hill to the Kursk railway station, almost half a mile away, and was still growing.
“Nemtsov’s death was a case where I couldn’t just look away or cross the road and walk on the other side of the pavement,” said Irina Shebanova, a retired school teacher who came from Tver, 150km (93 miles) north of Moscow, to pay her respects.
Sergei Larin, a small businessman who said he was “only just breathing” after 15 years of President Putin’s repressive rule, described Nemtsov’s killing as the crossing of a new frontier of cruelty and cynicism.
“There has been a long list of killings before,” he said, “but to shoot a former member of the government right by the Kremlin … It’s complete rubbish to say that it was done to discredit Putin. There were clear, direct threats to Nemtsov. From extremists? What extremists? Putin controls and feeds all the extremists in the world, and by the way from our taxpayers’ money.”
Yelena Barkova, 41, an election co-ordinator, said opposition followers had often declared that Russia had reached a “turning point” before, but Nemtsov’s murder was definitely it. “It marks the start of Terror.”
Pavel Volkov, a physicist, said there had been no need for Mr Putin to give any direct order himself to kill Nemtsov because the atmosphere of hatred, whipped up by state propaganda, was enough. “Anger in society is off the scale,” he said. “We are living in a nightmare. I worry most of all for my children and grandchildren.”
Lyudmila and Alla, two pensioners who came together, were too frightened to give their surnames. “This murder shows what the powers that be are capable of,” said Lyudmila. “Citizens should investigate the killing themselves because we cannot believe the investigators.”
“I feel this very bitterly,” said Alla, “the shooting shows that it is deadly dangerous to be in opposition. We live in a concentration camp, ruled by the KGB.”
Pasha, 24, an urban studies analyst with a long hipster beard, said that Nemtsov had seemed out of date to him but that he admired his energy and optimism. “He was the guy from the 90s but still he was cool – he had some passion.”
Ilya Shepelin, a journalist with the independent magazine Bolshoi Gorod, said: “I was a critic of Nemtsov before but his murder united us.” When street demonstrations flared against Mr Putin in 2011-12, partly organised by Nemtsov, there was a belief that Russia could change. Now, with every prominent opposition leader jailed, in exile or dead, “people don’t know what to do … people have no hope”.
Ksenia Sobchak, a socialite turned opposition figure and journalist, tweeted that she had received a grim message after viewing the body. A man had walked up to her and said: “Bear in mind, you’re next Ksenia.”
The girlfriend of Boris Nemtsov spoke publicly for the first time yesterday about the moment the opposition leader was shot dead as they crossed a bridge together near the Kremlin.
Anna Duritskaya, a Ukrainian model who had been with the former deputy prime minister and critic of President Putin for 2½ years, said that she never saw the killer and expressed dismay that the Russian authorities were refusing to let her go home to Kiev.
Speaking in a faltering voice drained of emotion, she told the online independent news channel Dozhd that she had noticed nothing suspicious over dinner in a restaurant overlooking Red Square late on Friday, or as they strolled downhill to the river, towards Mr Nemtsov’s home.
Then “on the bridge the murder happened”.
“I don’t want to answer questions about what happened on the bridge. I don’t want to talk about this,” she said. “I am in a very difficult psychological condition and I cannot talk about this any more now. I feel bad… I saw no one. I don’t know where he came from, [the killer] was behind my back.
“I turned around and all I saw was a light-coloured car. I saw neither the brand nor the licence plate of the car when it was driving away.”
Mr Nemtsov, 55, died almost instantly. Ms Duritskaya, who is more than 30 years younger than her partner, was taken away by police and interrogated without a lawyer.
“They questioned me until morning. I don’t remember where,” she said. “Some time later, several hours into the questioning, I asked to call a lawyer and the Ukrainian embassy consul.”
She said that she had given all the evidence she could yet was still kept under constant guard for several days.
However, a few hours after the interview appeared, Ms Duritskaya was allowed to leave Moscow and fly home to Ukraine. She will be a notable absentee at Mr Nemtsov’s funeral today, in common with Alexei Navalny, the jailed opposition leader, and Bogdan Borusewicz, the leader of the Polish Senate, who said last night that he had been denied entry to Russia.
Another mourner, the Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete, was spending the night at a Moscow airport after immigration officials refused to let her into the country. Ms Kalniete, a former foreign minister, said she would fly back to Brussels today.
The British government will be represented at the funeral by the former prime minister Sir John Major.
There were conflicting reports yesterday as to whether the closed-circuit television cameras covering the site of the killing were working at the time of the attack. The business newspaper Kommersant, citing an anonymous interior ministry source, said that they were not, although the Moscow city authorities later said that the cameras were working and that there were others operated by federal security.
The newspaper said that investigators were sure that “the killers were not professionals”, that they used old ammunition and possibly an unreliable home-made weapon of the type used in 2006 to kill Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist and critic of the Kremlin.
The website Life News, which has close links to the security services, reported that the murderer was about 1.7m (5ft 7in) with short dark hair, wearing blue jeans and a brown sweater.
Late on Sunday, after tens of thousands of Russian protesters had shuffled through the drizzle to the spot where Mr Nemtsov was murdered, an unusual guest was invited on to Russian state television’s most popular weekly news and current affairs show.
Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, another critic of Mr Putin who was poisoned with polonium 210 in London in 2006, said that Mr Nemtsov’s murder was a carefully planned “provocation” organised by MI6 and other Western intelligence services.
Mr Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, is now a member of the State Duma, where he represents the ultra-nationalist LDPR. He told Russian TV that he was “convinced that preparations for killing Nemtsov began at least a year ago as part of a strategic plan [aiming for a] strategic outcome in Russia linked to Ukraine”.
“This may not be the end, but the beginning of provocations,” he warned viewers. “It is all part of a geopolitical game of western intelligence services.”
No explanation was given for Mr Lugovoi’s presence on the show and there was no mention of evidence allegedly linking him to Mr Litvinenko’s death. His place was later taken in the 145-minute-long panel discussion programme by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the LDPR, who recently suggested attacking Kiev with napalm.
Many leading figures from the Moscow intelligentsia had refused to appear on Sunday’s show. “Close friends and associates who knew Boris Nemtsov well were being called all day Saturday by researchers from the show, but none of them agreed to go on it,” a source told The Times, adding that they considered the programme a propaganda mouthpiece for Kremlin-approved views.
In Geneva yesterday Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, promised that the murder would be “fully investigated”, although he added that any “attempt to use the heinous killing of Boris Nemtsov for political purposes is despicable”.
Boris Nemtsov’s fearless investigation of corruption may have doomed him
In Stalin’s day, prominent enemies of the state were at least granted a show trial. In Putin’s they are gunned down in the street. The murder last Friday night of Boris Nemtsov may never be solved but it confirms with sickening finality that propaganda has taken hold in Russia in the 21st century much as it did in the 20th. It dictates that critics of the regime are traitors, that traitors deserve to die and that no one is exempt. Garry Kasparov, the chess master and surviving dissident, summarised the meaning of the murder with typical concision: “The message is this: we have no allergy to blood and anyone can be killed”.
Mr Nemtsov seized the opportunities of perestroika to build a career in politics that he hoped would lead to power. Instead, it condemned him in the end to heroic internal exile as a persecuted dissident. Yesterday tens of thousands of Muscovites gathered near the pavement where he fell to honour him, but the truth is that many more barely knew his name.
“Who is Nemtsov anyway?” young people asked reporters covering the rally. Their ignorance is testament to the power and self-censorship of state-controlled media in the age of Putin, but their question deserves an answer. He was a physics PhD who was too charismatic to be content with academia. As a protégé of Boris Yeltsin he was made governor of the Nizhni-Novgorod region and, later, deputy prime minister of Russia. As a thorn in Mr Putin’s side he protested not only against the war in Ukraine but also, and perhaps crucially, against corruption.
Mr Nemtsov’s fearless condemnation of Mr Putin’s Ukrainian strategy has inevitably dominated discussion of his death. Hours before being shot four times at close range in the back he had called the war “mad, aggressive and deadly” in a radio interview, and he was preparing a dossier that he promised would lay bare Mr Putin’s personal involvement in the conflict. Yet it is hard to overstate the anger he caused in the Kremlin 18 months earlier with a detailed and fearless analysis of how the Sochi winter Olympics became the most expensive games in history.
The cronyism behind the Sochi games was an open secret by the time they opened a year ago, but it was Mr Nemtsov who put names and numbers to the rumours. He commissioned a report that estimated that $26 billion of the $50 billion budget went on embezzlement and kickbacks, and he named two childhood friends of Mr Putin’s, Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, as controllers of companies that received contracts worth nearly $7 billion. Mr Nemtsov was safe as long as Mr Putin was harvesting what goodwill he could from the Sochi games, but in the long run, in the violent kleptocracy that Russia has become, there is nothing more dangerous than following the money.
Yesterday John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, demanded a “thorough, transparent, real investigation”. He shouldn’t hold his breath. There has been nothing remotely transparent about the official investigations into the deaths of such brave Kremlin critics as the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and the opposition Duma member Yuri Shchekochikhin.
Mr Putin has suggested that the Nemtsov murder was a “provocation”. This is the insulting reflex of a man who seems incapable of remorse and who has turned Russia into a gangster state. It will not change until he goes.