Russian opposition activists say they will publish documents gathered by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov before his February 27 murder that purport to show Russia's direct military role in Ukraine.
Activist Ilya Yashin, a close Nemtsov ally, said Wednesday the evidence gathered by the slain activist includes details obtained from parents of Russian soldiers killed while fighting on Ukrainian soil. He told the British newspaper The Times that the evidence has been safeguarded and was not lost when police seized Nemtsov's computer as part of the probe into his murder.
Meanwhile, calling the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov a “disgrace” to Russia, President Vladimir Putin called on the country's law enforcement agencies Wednesday to focus on high-profile crimes, including those that are politically motivated.
The Russian leader told a televised meeting with Interior Ministry officials that they need to solve more crimes, both new ones and those from "past years," Putin said.
“The most serious attention should be paid to high-profile crimes, including those with a political motive. Russia should finally be spared the kind of shame and tragedy we have recently endured and seen. I mean the audacious murder of Boris Nemtsov right in the center of the capital.”
The director of Russia's main security agency said Wednesday that suspects have been identified in the case, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.
"There are always suspects," said Federal Security Service chief Aleksandr Bortnikov. He did not elaborate, but cautioned that investigations are ongoing.
FILE - Boris Nemtsov speaks to The Associated Press Television News in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 21, 2011.
Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of the Russian president, was shot in the back four times last week, just steps from the Kremlin.
Putin, whose official residence is inside the Kremlin, called the killing a provocation and vowed to find whoever was responsible. He is said to be overseeing the investigation.
Another key opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, said Tuesday he believed Nemtsov was killed either by members of the state security services or a "pro-government organization" acting "on the orders of the political leadership of the country," including Putin.
“The only question,” he wrote in a blog post, "is how the order was formulated: 'You must kill Nemtsov,' or 'You must carry out a noisy, high-profile action.'"
Nemtsov, a charismatic opposition activist, was buried at Moscow's Troyekurovskoye Cemetery Tuesday, where Anna Politkovskaya, the award-winning Russian journalist murdered in 2006, is also buried.
Earlier in the day, thousands of people filed past Nemtsov's coffin at the Andrei Sakharov human rights center in the Russian capital to pay respects.
Long list of dead opponents
Attending the Nemtsov services, Yashin, an activist with Russia’s Solidarity movement, said, ”When someone in the government's propaganda is turned into an enemy of the people, that almost always turns into a political murder. Vladimir Putin, at a minimum, has to take some political responsibility for it [the murder]."
Nemtsov’s killing was the most politically charged assassination in Russia since 2006, when Novaya Gazeta journalist Politkovskaya was shot to death in her Moscow apartment building.
The independent newspaper is known for not shying away from criticizing Russian authorities.
Five of Novaya Gazeta’s journalists and one lawyer have been murdered for their work, most of them apparently victims of paid killers. Although killers have been jailed, in only one case has the person who allegedly ordered the murder been identified, but no one has been sentenced.
Sergei Sokolov is the deputy chief-editor and head of the department of investigations at Novaya Gazeta. On Tuesday, he noted to VOA that “by a strange coincidence” all the killings had occurred since Putin had come to power.
“Generally the attitude of intolerance to any critics of the present regime,” he said, “to any independent critics of the regime, has grown exponentially and has topped the scale.”
Sokolov added, “no one could be sure of his security today.”
Browder speaks out
British citizen Bill Browder is the co-founder of the Hermitage Capital Management fund that has been described as one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia from 1995 to 2006. A noted critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Browder was banned from Russia in 2006 after calling attention to corruption and tax evasion by Russian businessmen.
He was convicted on tax evasion charges by a Russian court in 2013, a proceeding the West describes as political and does not recognize. Company lawyers say Hermitage was a "victim of what is known in Russia as 'corporate raiding': seizing companies and other assets with the aid of corrupt law enforcement officials and judges."
One of Hermitage's lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested in 2008 and charged with the tax evasion he and Browder had uncovered. Magnitsky died after 11 months in pretrial detention in 2009. In 2012, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Moscow that were named in honor of the deceased Russian lawyer.
"It is clear to me that in the past the Russian government and Putin never murdered opposition politicians," said Bill Browder.
"They put them in jail. And the ones they did not put in jail, they opened cases against them, in hope they would flee into exile. And so the fact they murdered an opposition politician means that the Rubicon has been crossed, and if that has been crossed, other may be murdered as well. And sadly, given how desperate Putin is now to control the population with his economic decline, I fear very profoundly other people will be killed," he said.
Photo Gallery: Nemtsov funeral