Putin’s fierce critic Nemtsov gunned down

People place flowers on February 28, 2015 at the spot, where Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead, near Saint-Basil's Cathedral, in the centre of Moscow. PHOTO | SERGEI GAPO |

What you need to know:

  • Former deputy PM had demanded an end to Ukrainian war and was set to lead a protest on Saturday
  • Obama leads world leaders in mourning and condemning the killing of Russia’s opposition leader
  • Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader had taken the investigation “under personal control”.

MOSCOW, Saturday

Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down while walking in sight of the Kremlin late Friday, prompting an international chorus of condemnation.

The Kremlin decried as a provocation the murder of the 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, which came ahead of an opposition rally he was set to lead this weekend and sent shock waves across the country.

US President Barack Obama led condemnation of the “brutal” and “vicious murder” of Nemtsov, whom he had met on a visit to Moscow, and called on Russia to conduct an impartial probe.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader had taken the investigation “under personal control”.

The murder of the outspoken critic of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, on a bridge near the Kremlin, “bears the hallmarks of a contract killing,” Mr Peskov said on radio, describing it as a provocation.

The brazen assassination was one of the most highest-profile killings during Mr Putin’s 15 years in power and recalled the shooting of anti-Kremlin reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down on Mr Putin’s birthday in 2006.

Investigators said Nemtsov was shot by unidentified assailants as he was walking with a Ukrainian woman along a bridge just metres from the Kremlin.

“According to preliminary information, an unidentified person shot at Boris Nemtsov no fewer than 7-8 times from a car as he was walking along the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge,” said investigators.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Yelena Alekseyeva said Nemtsov was hit by four bullets. An AFP reporter saw a blood stain on the rain-soaked pavement on the side of the bridge near the red walls of the Kremlin, with roses laid by a police barrier at the scene.

Speaking on radio just hours before his murder, Mr Nemtsov sounded upbeat and urged Russians to take to the streets and join a major opposition rally planned for Sunday.

“The key political demand is an immediate end to the Ukraine war,” he said on popular Echo of Moscow radio, adding that Putin should quit. “A dead-end in both domestic and foreign policies. They should go,” he said.