Everyone in Moscow knew that the massive demonstration planned for March 1 was in some way meant to be dangerous. The mood harked back to the events that caused the 1917 Revolution, or the troubles on the streets that paved the way for Boris Yeltsin to seize power. The regime had already staged its Anti-Maidan, its own preemptive counterdemonstration where the usual suspects, including Dr. Alexander Zaldostanov’s Night Wolves biker gang, vowed there would be no Color Revolution or other such theatrics in Moscow.
But even so, politicians were tense with expectation. Perhaps the most active anti-Putin dissident, Alexei Navalny, went out of his way to provoke the police and thus was safely incarcerated for two weeks before the planned demonstration.
And then the unexpected occurred: Boris Nemtsov, one of the few people in Russia who was a Western-style celebrity (famous for being famous), was gunned down in the center of Moscow. He had gone for a walk across the bridge opposite the Kremlin with a young Ukrainian girlfriend very late at night. The backdrop was perfect—the floodlit St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin wall, the river. The hit was professional—well, almost.
Somehow the assassins had made sure that all the CCTV cameras panning the spot were off. A street-sweeping machine screened the precise location from view. Six shots were fired...