Shortly before midnight on February 27, 2015, as Boris Nemtsov and his girlfriend were crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge in the shadow of the Kremlin, a man stepped out of the darkness and shot the prominent opposition politician four times, killing him instantly. Nemtsov had been scheduled to lead a large demonstration the following day against the war in Ukraine and economic conditions at home. What should have been a protest march became a funeral.
The assassination was not an isolated event, but one in a long line of political killings in recent years. Kremlin critic Galina Starovoitova was gunned down in November 1998. Sergei Yushenkov, co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party, was shot in April 2003. Three months later, Duma deputy Yuri Shchekochikhin died under mysterious circumstances, possibly from thallium poisoning. In October 2006, journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow, and several weeks later Alexander Litvinenko was fed polonium-210 by two former KGB agents in a London hotel and died a slow, agonizing death. Many more cases could be cited.
Murder as political tool has by now been recognized as an important feature of the Putin regime. Opponents are branded traitors, fifth columnists, and foreign agents. They are subjected to intimidation and harassment. If they fail to get the message, harsher punishments follow, sometimes even death.