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World

Two Detained Over Murder Of Putin Critic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A top Russian security official says two suspects have been arrested in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Police say the men were identified with the help of surveillance video and cell phone records. It is not clear whether the arrests will ease tensions in the Russian capital, where opposition figures say they fear for their own safety. NPR's Corey Flintoff has this update from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: So far, little has been revealed about the suspects other than their names and a report that they come from the North Caucuses, a region in southern Russia that's been plagued by separatist violence. The arrests came amid a hubbub of speculation and conspiracy theories surrounding Nemtsov's murder. Many prominent Russians said the murder signals a new and frightening atmosphere in the country's politics. This is former Finance Minister Alexi Kudrin.

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ALEXI KUDRIN: (Through interpreter) I would like to stress again that Nemtsov's murder is a dramatic page in history because in modern political Russia, we have seen an opponent stopped by a weapon, by a bullet. This is a new reality. It is intolerable.

FLINTOFF: Although he's a frequent critic of the Kremlin's economic policies, Kudrin is not an opponent of President Putin or his government. Many establishment figures have condemned Nemtsov's murder, including Putin himself. But most have echoed the president by describing the killing as a provocation. The implication is that someone outside the government - possibly opposition members themselves - killed Nemtsov in an effort to destabilize the country. Just a week before Nemtsov lost his life, a group allied to President Putin held a rally in which he and other opposition figures were accused of being national traitors. After the murder, President Putin sent a letter of condolence to Nemtsov's mother, but he hasn't backed away from anti-opposition rhetoric. A few days ago, he said this in a speech to government law enforcement officials.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) We see attempts to stir up revolution, ranging from organizing unlawful public protests to open propaganda of hatred and enmity in social networks.

FLINTOFF: Since Nemtsov's death, several opposition figures have used the term new reality to describe the climate for dissidents in Russia. Yevgenia Albats is the editor of the liberal magazine The New Times and a longtime friend of Nemtsov. She told NPR's Renee Montagne this week that the atmosphere is changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

YEVGENIA ALBATS: I think that the regime in Russia is getting tougher and more bloody. It is the KGB, the most bloodiest institution of the Soviet Union, which is in power in my country right now.

FLINTOFF: The KGB is the Soviet-era secret police, where Putin and many other leading figures in the government got their start. Very few people in Russia would doubt their ability to solve the Nemtsov murder if they chose to do so. It's not clear yet whether the latest arrests will yield answers, not only to the question of who killed the opposition leader, but who gave the order. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.