I passed the stunning Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square without seeing it. A quote from Anna Karenina rolled through my mind, where Levin avoids “any long look at her as one avoids long looks at the sun, but seeing her as one sees the sun, without looking.”
I was like that with Red Square. With all of Moscow, now.
The promised black Mercedes sat idling. I caught the pale streak of my distorted reflection in the tinted glass as I opened the door and got in. Seated opposite me was a middle-aged man with bags beneath his eyes. His looks did not match his reputation, though Yuri had assured me that this man was indeed the murderer of Nemtsov. Here was the assassin who had defied Putin and made his vaunted secret police look ridiculous.
I set the suitcase beside him. He did not open it.
I nodded and let myself out.
Late in the evening on February 27th, 2015, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated as he walked home across a bridge that spans the Moscow River, not far from the Kremlin and the bulbous domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral. The killer shot Nemtsov four times, from behind, as his girlfriend watched in terror.
Nemtsov was once a precocious political talent, rising from provincial governor to become to become President Boris Yeltsin’s deputy prime minister. He never found his way in Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, and left government when his party was voted out of parliament, in 2003. He became one of the more energetic and charismatic figures in the country’s beleaguered political opposition. He was handsome, with a lively mane of light brown hair that turned silver over the years, which he swept to the side in the style of a television news anchor.
His murder was a terrible blow to the opposition and an unwelcome jolt to the political élite. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former political adviser to Putin who has become a critic of the Kremlin, remarked that Putin was stunned that this murder took place under his nose.