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World

Russians March In Memory Of Murdered Opposition Leader Nemtsov

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Russia is not a place where people commonly fill the streets in protest. And yet yesterday, the boulevard that runs between the Moscow River and the Kremlin was choked with an enormous crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Not much but the sound of a helicopter there, and sometimes, silence tells a story. A large crowd, somber and mostly silent, was mourning the death of Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition figure shot dead Friday, steps from the Kremlin walls. Whoever did it remains at large. Let's bring in two voices from Moscow. We spoke to NPR's Corey Flintoff and independent political analyst Masha Lipman. Good morning to you you both.

COREY FLINTOFF, HOST:

Good morning.

MASHA LIPMAN: Morning.

GREENE: Corey, let me start with you. Thousands of people we have yesterday in Moscow mourning the death of this opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. What was the scene like?

FLINTOFF: Well, actually, tens of thousands of people. And estimates are that it was more than 50,000. One of the striking things about this is that it was a very quiet march. In fact, people carried signs saying things like no words. So there wasn't a great deal of chanting or a great deal of political slogans, for instance. People carried signs. They said things like I am not afraid, propaganda kills, heroes do not die. It was very moving in that sense. For a quiet march, it was very eloquent.

GREENE: It sounds that way. Do we know - any idea right now who shot Boris Nemtsov?

FLINTOFF: No. Police say that they have no suspects, and that's surprising given that this took place in one of the most thoroughly monitored and surveilled public spaces in Moscow. There were cameras everywhere. And we're told that the ones on the bridge where he was shot were not working.

GREENE: Well, Masha, let me bring you in here. I mean, the Kremlin has condemned this killing. Vladimir Putin says he's going to investigative and figure out who killed Nemtsov. But a lot of Russians seem to be suggesting or pointing the finger at the Kremlin. I mean, was this a Putin critic being silenced here?

LIPMAN: Well, there is a lot of finger-pointing. But of course, at this point we do not know. It is certainly true that the Kremlin is anxious to demonstrate that it does not bear the blame for this assassination. However, what people mostly agree on is even though we do not know who committed this hideous crime, the Kremlin is responsible for an atmosphere of aggression and intolerance incited first and foremost by the national television channels.

GREENE: And, I mean, we should say that since the killing of Boris Nemtsov, there have been theories out there in the Russian media suggesting that somehow the West was responsible for this.

LIPMAN: Well, the West is to blame for everything. The West is this epitome of evil. The West is out there to do harm to Russia - anywhere to the Russian culture, to the Russian history, to the Russian state, to the Russian society. So of course, to those people who tend to share this worldview, whatever awful and tragic happens, the West is responsible.

GREENE: But you're suggesting, Masha Lipman, that a lot of what we've been seeing from the Russian media - messages of intolerance - as you say, might be, you know, inciting some level of hatred against people who don't agree with the Kremlin or Vladimir Putin.

LIPMAN: Yes, indeed. You know, when you hear week after week and month after month that there were internal enemies in Russia - people who disagree, who would not pledge allegiance to the government, people whom Putin himself as well as a broad range of officials refer to as fifth column, or national traitors. Of course in this atmosphere, those forces that are prone to violence tend to believe that they have a go-ahead.

GREENE: Corey Flintoff, let me just ask you about yesterday. We've been hearing for months now that Vladimir Putin's poll numbers - which are not always reliable in Russia but have been very high. We've been hearing that he's had a lot of support after annexing Crimea. I mean, is this an important moment? Did you sense a turning point that this murder may have galvanized Russia's opposition in some way?

FLINTOFF: You know, I actually ask people that. And most of the people that I talk to - and a lot of them were young. A lot of them were university students - told me that they didn't think that this was a turning point, that this was just a kind of continuation of the deterioration of the political space in Russia. But, you know, one of the most striking things about the march yesterday was there was just a sea of Russian flags. People were carrying Russian flags. And that seemed to me to be an effort to sort of refute this narrative that the opposition is unpatriotic.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to NPR's Corey Flintoff as well as independent political analyst Masha Lipman, both on the line with us from Moscow. Thank you to you both.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, David.

LIPMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.