Boris Nemtsov, leader of opposition in Russia, has been shot dead late on Friday in central Moscow, only a few steps from away from the Kremlin. He had been an out and out critic of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, and Russian involvement in the Ukraine war. The 55 year old opposition leader had been shot in the back four times by unknown assailants who came in a white car when he had been walking across a bridge on Moskova River along with a Ukrainian woman who escaped unhurt.

Police cordoned off the blood-stained bridge situated near the red walls of the Kremlin and Red Square. The incident reminded the gang-led style killings of 1990s after the collapse of the USSR when there was complete chaos there. Nemtsov had been a towering political leader, and the most prominent political figure to have been murdered in Russia during the 15-year tenure of President Putin who was quick to condemn the heinous killing. The killing had occurred on the eve of the huge opposition protest he was scheduled to lead on Sunday. Putin took control of the investigation of the killing, and suspected it to be a contract killing aimed to provoke public on the eve of the opposition protest rally.

Boris Nemtsov, Russian Opposition Leader, Shot Dead in Moscow near KremlinThe killing is another exhibition of the treatment meted out to those opposing Putin during his third term in office when several prominent critics of Kremlin have either been jailed or compelled to flee the country. Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister under Putin and a prominent opposition leader, was appalled at the killing just beside the walls of the Kremlin, and termed it as unthinkable. He added that he could surmise only that Nemtsov had been killed for his telling the truth. Barack Obama termed it as vicious killing, and demanded impartial, prompt, and transparent investigation to bring to book those responsible for the heinous crime. Obama further revealed that Nemtsov had been an advocate of Russia, and a tireless campaigner for the rights of the citizens of Russia. He referred Nemtsov as a “dedicated and eloquent” defender of Russian people’s rights. The Republican chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Joyce, expressed dismay at the killing and opined that complete lawlessness prevailed in Russia under Putin. He further added that irrespective of who killed Boris Nemtsov, the assault was another example of the treatment handed to those who dared oppose Putin.

Within two hours of his killing, police had been wiping out blood from the bridge as supporters of Nemtsov in large numbers began offering flowers at the place of occurrence. As per Tass news agency, Nemtsov had been walking after taking meal in a nearby restaurant when he was shot. Agency added that the slain leader had earlier expressed apprehension that he might be done to death at the instance of President Putin due to his opposition to Russian involvement in the conflict in east Ukraine. Sunday’s scheduled protest march was intended against war in Ukraine where Russia-led rebels had captured a territory near the town Kiev. Ilya Yashin, a fellow opposition leader, told that Nemtsov had been receiving threats on his life for some time.

Nemtsov’s criticism of Putin influenced intellectuals and middle class people in big cities, but had little following in far flung areas. He had been a great fighter against corruption, and on several occasions, he condemned governmental actions. He was one among the leaders who led the 2011-12 winter rallies, the biggest protests against Putin after his accession to power in the year 2000. He served as a deputy prime minister in the late 1990s for a brief period under Boris Yeltsin, and had the image of a liberal economic reformer. Nevertheless, the killing may galvanize people who may participate in the Sunday’s protest rally in large numbers. Many Putin opponents like Anna Politkovskaya fear for their lives.

With several leaders in jail, and many prominent personalities living outside the country, opposition has failed to make a dent into Putin’s popularity. Alexei Navalny, opposition blogger, has been in jail for 15 years, former World Chess Champion, Gary Kasparov, living in the US, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon freed in 2013 residing in Switzerland, Putin felt secure in his fort.