Ben Aris in Moscow -
Tens of thousands of Muscovites turned out to mourn the death of Boris Nemtsov, the flamboyant opposition leader who was gunned down outside the walls of the Kremlin late on February 27.
The mood was grim as somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 demonstrators marched in almost total silence along the embankment of the river Moskva and then onto the bridge where Nemtsov was shot in the back.
Originally the opposition movement was planning to hold a protest march on March 1; however, after its leader's murder, the event was cancelled and changed to a funeral procession in honour of Nemtsov.
"Size of today's Moscow march suggests Nemtsov murder galvanised rather than intimidated. An encouraging sign," tweeted New York City University professor Mark Galeotti.
The Nemtsov marchers carried Russian flags topped with long black pieces of cloth. Photo by Ben Aris/bne IntelliNews
The marchers carried thousands and thousands of Russian flags all topped with a long black piece of cloth to mark the death of one of Russia's most outspoken and long-serving public figures.
"Nemtsov's death is a wake-up call for Russia. People don't want to live in a country like this," former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov told bne IntelliNews. Kasyanov will take over the mantle as the most senior opposition figure following Nemtsov's death.
Mikhail Kasyanov speaks with reporters. Photo by Ben Aris/bne IntelliNews
However, Kasyanov stopped short of accusing the Kremlin of ordering Nemtsov's death, but expressed hope that his murder will act to politicise the bulk of Russia's society, which has remained largely apathetic apart from a few demonstrations in recent years.
The authorities were quick to acknowledge the importance of the event by giving the go-ahead within hours of the opposition leaders' calling for a funerary march in the centre of the city. The original protest march had only been given permission on the outskirts of the city.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was extremely quick to react to the news of Nemtsov's death, calling it a "provocation" and has said that he will personally oversee the investigation.
A criminal investigation has already been launched - with the authorities saying they are pursuing possible links to Islamic extremism following Nemtsov's condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo shootings - but they have not linked his death to his political activities, causing much ridicule in the press. Likewise, while the international press were out in force at the march, very little if anything appeared on state-run TV.
The death of a senior Russian politician who was once nominated by former president Boris Yeltsin as a possible successor has been extremely embarrassing for Putin. The state media apparatus is more likely to continue the job of obfuscation in order to ensure that no blame is attached to the Kremlin. While the Western press has been fast to link the Kremlin to the killing, on the basis of no evidence, the Russian authorities have been just as fast to link the killing to pretty much everything else that is remotely plausible.
Talking on the Rossia state television channel, Russian MP and former State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov described the killing as "a serious and I am sure provocation operation carried out by Western intelligence services to create instability in Russia again, so there are more radicals on the streets, and more radical statements and actions".
While it remains unlikely that the Kremlin itself ordered Nemtsov's death, the most likely possibility floated so far is that some fraction within the Kremlin or the security services took matters into their own hands.
What happens next remains unclear. The size of this March 1 march is the biggest since the rebirth of Russian politics with the protests on Bolotnaya Square in December 2011. Those protests followed a fixed Duma election and marked the first significant popular protests since Putin took power in 2000.
However this protest, like the previous ones, remains confined to Moscow, and the effective smothering of the news by the state media means that the high emotions in Moscow are unlikely to spread far into the regions. Indeed while St Petersburg held a similar march, marches in other regional capitals were refused.
The girl's placards read "Nemtsov. No Words." Photo by Ben Aris/bne IntelliNews
Flowers left in memorial of Nemtsov at the place he was shot. Photo by Ben Aris/bne IntelliNews
Police in position ahead of the marchers. Photo by Ben Aris/bne IntelliNews
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