The Chechen connection has been made in connection to the murder of Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the non-system liberal opposition. So far five suspects have been arrested in this case. The murder’s organizer, Zaur Dadayev, has already admitted his guilt, while his accomplice, Beslan Shavanov, killed himself during his arrest. Dadayev explained that Nemtsov had insulted Islam in the past and was punished for it.

The story conjures up associations with the Charlie Hebdo incident in which the magazine’s staff were shot and killed for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Afterwards, millions of outraged French citizens took to the street to protest the actions of the Islamist extremists and reassert Europeans’ right to self-expression.

Alexey Malashenko
Malashenko is a former chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Religion, Society, and Security Program.
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Shortly after these protests, an alternative rally in the Chechen capital of Grozny attracted approximately 700,000 people. The participants protested against insulting Islam, as well as the general atmosphere of permissiveness and the loss of true values in the West. In a sense, they were justifying the murderers. (On the other hand, in certain instances, authorities and clergy take the position that they don’t even consider the terrorists Muslims, as was the case regarding the terrorist assault on Grozny in December 2014.)

Al Qaeda was behind the Paris murders—at least, that’s what many analysts think. But who was behind Nemtsov’s murder?

Although journalists often point to Ramzan Kadyrov, I find it hard to believe. I can’t imagine the Chechen leader calling his subordinates and directly instructing them to commit this crime. He has nothing to gain from it.

But the xenophobia and fear of the West characteristic of some segments of Russia’s Muslim community, including Muslims in the North Caucasus, creates a favorable climate for such acts. Islamic anti-Westernism matches the official Russian ideology, which focuses more on criticizing the tolerance and amorality of the West than on condemning terrorist attacks themselves. We have come full circle.

The actual mastermind of Nemstov’s murder will never be found because, in all likelihood, such an individual doesn’t exist. Incidentally, just a week after the Moscow tragedy, Ramzan Kadyrov was awarded the Order of Honor, once again proving the adage that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” (or Caesar’s brother in this instance). The Kremlin continues to trust Kadyrov and is not about to distance itself from him as a result of his charges’ actions.

Those responsible—the murderers, that is—will certainly be punished. They might get off relatively lightly, though—after all, they acted in the name of their faith. For their part, Russian liberals should be more careful now. From this point on, besides being punished by the regime, they will also be targeted by terrorists, whose views sometimes coincide with those of the regime.

This post addresses only the one, most-talked-about theory of the murder, but we shouldn’t completely dismiss other possibilities. Besides, “the Chechen connection” does raise some questions. For instance, those that kill from behind usually don’t kill for their faith—this is a sign of cowardice. Also, the case has been solved surprisingly quickly, given the usual sluggish pace of Russian investigations. Moreover, the North Caucasus’s involvement in the killing may lead to the escalation of interethnic tensions. There are other holes in the Chechen story, but the investigators are unlikely to discard it at this point.

This publication originally appeared in Russian.

  • Alexey Malashenko