On Sunday, thousands of people turned out across Russia to commemorate the third anniversary of Boris Nemtsov’s assassination.

Shortly after opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered just outside the Kremlin’s walls on February 27, 2015, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told a press conference that “in political terms, he did not pose any threat to the current Russian leadership or Vladimir Putin.… Boris Nemtsov was just a little bit more than an average citizen.”

The remark echoed one uttered by Putin himself in 2006, after the assassination of well-known investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya: “The level of her influence on political life in Russia was utterly insignificant.”

The truth, of course, is that Nemtsov—like Politkovskaya—was a threat to Putin and his cronies, giving them every motive to silence him. His grassroots political activism helped expose the Kremlin’s military intervention in eastern Ukraine, the embezzlement of more than $25 billion during the Sochi Olympics, and large-scale corruption within the powerful state-owned energy company Gazprom. A former deputy prime minister and member of parliament, Nemtsov was a charismatic and talented liberal politician who had long been an implacable foe of Putin’s consolidation of power, and one of the few honest politicians who did not amass wealth while in office.

A pattern of violence and impunity

Nemtsov’s murder was not an isolated incident in Russia. Since Putin’s controversial return to the presidency in 2012 after a stint as prime minister, the Kremlin has amplified its…

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