What Boris Nemtsov's killing means for Russia
: Nemtsov's killing – how much of a blow is that to alternative voice, opposition voice in Russia?
: If it has an objective, it is to spread fear
. No one is safe, it says. This is in the most public possible place. Security cameras on the whole time. It's heavily policed – although they're now saying the security cameras were being repaired so they didn't record anything. And there are all sorts of obfuscations going on as to the reasons, or who might have done it and so on.
: Is it worth, you know, speculating the reasons and who might have done it, Sir Andrew?
: I think the reasons and who is responsible is perfectly obvious. And that is precisely what they will try to conceal
. It is clear that this was done by someone very close to the regime. I doubt whether there was an order signed by Putin, any more than there was an order signed by Milosevic in his case. But it is done by somebody, or a group, who wished to appeal to the higher leadership of the regime, and it is in the spirit of the regime.
: Any credence do you give, any credence at all, to this personal control that Putin is proffering to take over the investigation into this?
: Well, it'll go the same way as his personal control of the investigation into the MH17 downing of the aircraft. So it'll just spin upriver and no one will ever know who is responsible. They may well find a victim to accuse, but that is not the same thing at all.
: Mikhail Prokhorov's sister Irina says Russia stands a crossroads unless the government returns to civilised politics to avoid further escalation of violence. She says, I fear there'll be seriously tragic consequences for the country. Do you concur?
: Yes. I mean, it is a major wake-up call. We in the West are very impressed by the apparent support for Putin, and there has been a patriotically whipped-up degree of support for him. But if you ask Russians what they expect over the next six months, they can't tell you. Which is a bad sign. If you ask yourself the question, if he has such wonderful support, why is he frightened of criticism, you get another sort of answer. So I think it's very rigid - it's also at the same time very fragile - control.
: One of the [people] … Obama and Merkel obviously conveying their condolences and condemnation of the killing. But also Petro Poroshenko. I find this quite insightful. Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine said that Nemtsov was a bridge between Russia and Ukraine. Is that your interpretation, perhaps that he acted as some kind of a conduit, as a bridge, in those politic?
: I suppose what the Ukrainian president had in mind is to say that here was a leading Russian politician who understood that the war in Ukraine was not in Russia's interests, and it was in Russia's interests for Ukraine to develop into a civilised and effective polity. I assume that's what he meant. I don't believe that he acted as a conduit in the sense that he was being tasked by the regime to convey messages and act as a channel between the two.
: Nemtsov has once been talked about as a potential President-in-waiting, wasn't he? That didn’t quite happen. Putin became…
: But that was in '97 before the crash.
: Of course. Is it worth speculating? One of our journalists Leonid Bershidsky has written a very good piece
over the weekend, what would Russia be like under Nemtsov if that path had continued, if he had become president. Can you imagine a Russia under Nemtsov, and what would Russia look like?
: Yes I can. When I left, I thought that there was at least a possibility that Russia would become gradually more governed by institutions and understood laws than it has. I thought that there was a possibility - not a very strong one, but a possibility - that the federal system would work effectively, that the new president would get on with the parliament, or Duma, and that therefore there would be a proper political dialogue between the leadership in the executive branch and the federal organs. Instead of which, the institutions in Russia have been entirely drained of meaning. The great thing about Nemtsov that you sensed immediately was not only that he was hugely, hugely alive, a very magnetic personality, very eager to talk and full of laughter as well as seriousness, but he also stood for ordinary human values. There's a lot of talk in Russia about special Russian values. The special Russian value in this description appears to be "might is right".
: Sir Andrew, give us just a very brief sense of what happens at this moment in time, diplomatically, behind the scenes, between countries like America [and] Russia, Britain [and] Russia, Germany and Russia, on piqued moments like this.
: Well, the first thing that happens, or ought to happen anyway, is for the countries of the West to begin to have an instinctive realisation of the sort of regime that now exists in Russia
. For a very long time we have hoped that it would evolve into something more like, let's say, Poland, which would be the best fate that Russia could possibly have. This is very clear now that this is not going to happen. There is a consequent risk, which I wouldn't like to say when or how, but there is a consequent risk of a serious crisis in Russia, leading to a degree of violence in Russia. I'm not saying it's a certainty, it's just a risk, and we have to be aware of that. So you have to recognise that, on the one hand, you're dealing with Putin for the foreseeable future, but on the other hand you must project to Russia as a whole that you care about Russia, about human values in Russia as well, because there will
be an aftermath.