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Nemtsov to RFE/RL: 'We Must Free Russia From Putin'


FILE - Boris Nemtsov speaks to The Associated Press Television News in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 21, 2011.

FILE - Boris Nemtsov speaks to The Associated Press Television News in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 21, 2011.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was looking ahead to a planned opposition rally Sunday that he anticipated would be an important step in a long struggle, though in an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service earlier this month, he portrayed the demonstration as just a first step in a long struggle.

"If you think that [authorities] would run away on March 1 in fright, they will run away if we get a million" people, he said in the February 3 interview. "But in order to get a million, we need to first have a successful march on March 1."

But Sunday's event is being reconfigured as a memorial for Nemtsov, who was killed by gunmen late Friday while walking near the Kremlin's Red Square.

In the interview, the 55-year-old had told RFE/RL the march's most important goal was to stop the war in Ukraine.

"We need to prepare an anti-crisis march, and the most important requirement is to stop the war," he said. "... We need to think of what the chants will be not only in Moscow, in St. Petersburg, in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and other cities."

Nemtsov rejected suggestions that the opposition would try to stage an "armed uprising" or revolution, adding that "the price for a peaceful way is time."

Nemtsov did not live to see out his vision. But the former first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin continued his sharp criticism of current President Vladimir Putin up until his death.

"Putin has created this capitalism of bureaucratic thieves, where poor people live in hardship," he said. "Putin is constantly lying, saying that there were no troops in Crimea, that there was a fair referendum and that we are not at war."

Nemtsov said in the interview that to end to the Ukraine crisis and Russia's economic woes, the Russian president must leave power.

"For me, these are absolute synonyms: Putin, crisis, war," he said. "We must free Russia from Putin. Because if we do not do this, we will be a pariah country, we will be in poverty, we will have a crisis that will last for years."

Following Nemtsov's murder, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian leader would keep the investigation under his "personal control."

'Putin has led this country into a dead end'

In the interview, Nemtsov called for an "anti-crisis plan." Once Russia's interference in Ukraine ended, he said, then Western sanctions would end and capital would return to the country.

He called for reducing military spending, which he called a "black box" where money is stolen. He also called for cancelling Putin's ban on Western food imports, increasing social spending and transferring money to Russian regions.

"Putin has led this country into a dead end, and Putin is 100 percent responsible for what is happening now," he said.

He called on using the Minsk cease-fire agreement as a starting point for peace in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have fought Ukrainian forces. He proposed building a "wall" along the borders of separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine.

"Declare to the people living behind the wall that they can choose: They can go to Russia, they can go to Ukraine, they can stay at home, but they must choose," he said. "They will quietly choose Ukraine if it is successful."

Nemtsov said that "if the Russian people knew that Putin was at war with Ukraine, they would have hated him a long time ago." He added that he believed that Russians will know that "Putin is sending soldiers there."

Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly denied accusations by Kyiv, NATO and Western governments that the Kremlin is backing the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Nemtsov was resolute that Putin needed to leave. In his trademark jocular, biting style, the opposition leader joked that “if you believe in miracles, you can expect that on March 1 Putin will disappear, fly to Sardinia or Pyongyang or somewhere else."

Organizers say that the march, originally planned for the outskirts of Moscow, has been called off. Instead, they are planning on holding a funeral procession for Nemtsov in the center of the city.

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