Moscow: Thousands of mourners today filed past the coffin of slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, bidding farewell to a charismatic activist whose brazen assassination shocked the country. The 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, longtime Putin critic and anti-corruption crusader who was gunned down near the Kremlin late Friday, will be buried in Moscow later today. The European Union condemned what it called “arbitrary” bans imposed on several prominent European figures whom Russia had blocked from attending the funeral.
Nemtsov’s muder marked the most high-profile assassination of President Vladimir Putin’s rule, sent shock waves across Moscow and triggered international condemnation led by US President Barack Obama. Thousands of mourners, some clutching flowers and candles, formed a huge queue outside the Andrei Sakharov rights centre in central Moscow where Nemtsov’s body lay in state.
As Bach’s St Matthew Passion played in the background, well-wishers filed past the coffin covered with flowers, many crossing themselves and some weeping. Nemtsov’s mother Dina Eidman, who turned 87 today, his children, widow and former partners and friends stood by the casket. Along with ordinary Russians were dignitaries including former president Boris Yeltsin’s widow Naina, respected former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, Anatoly Chubais, the architect of post-Soviet Russia’s mass privatisations, former prime minister turned opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.
Former British prime minister John Major and US ambassador John Tefft were among the foreign dignitaries to arrive. Putin will not attend the funeral, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Many mourners blamed the assassination on Putin, saying the Kremlin – locked in a bitter confrontation with the West over Ukraine – whipped up hatred against dissenters.
“We came because we feel ashamed of our country, of our people, that we let such a thing happen,” said one of the mourners, Dmitry Afanasyev. “Putin is to blame. But we are too.” “It’s a shock. It’s the system that killed him,” said another mourner, Vladimir Shlamin.
A journalist and ally of Nemtsov, Vladimir Kara-Murza, wept as he said friends had sought to convince the politician to leave the country but he had refused. “He could have lived a comfortable and easy life. He chose a different path,” said opposition activist Ilya Yashin. “He has left us as a hero.”
The top leader of the beleaguered opposition, Alexei Navalny, who is serving a short stint in jail, had been denied permission to attend the funeral.