Russia's Boris Nemtsov – 'the best president Russia never had'

Since 2015, the police and the municipal services have arrived at the bridge to take away the flowers and to arrest the volunteers.

Exclusive interview with Nemtsov’s close ally and a lifelong friend - Vladimir Kara-Murza.

In Moscow, thousands honored Boris Nemtsov – the most prominent Russian opposition leader –who was gunned down a stone’s throw from the Kremlin six years ago. Five men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to between 11 and 20 years in prison. However, the Russian government has refused to classify Nemtsov’s murder as a political assassination,

Following the memorial, Fox News spoke with Nemtsov’s ally and lifelong friend, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who chairs the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom. The opposition political figure, who has twice survived near-fatal poisonings and continues to live in Russia, calls Nemtsov "the best president Russia never had".

Fox News: Besides honoring Boris Nemtsov’s memory, what was the message of the gathering in Moscow?

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Thousands of people came to the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, where Boris Nemtsov was killed on Feb. 27, 2015, to pay their respects. And this happened not only in Moscow, but in dozens of cities across the country. Our message was – just as it is every year – they could kill a man, but they cannot kill his memory.

Since 2015, the police and the municipal services have arrived at the bridge to take away the flowers and to arrest the volunteers. But the very single morning for six years, the flowers and candles reappear. I do not know any other example of a politician who would get that kind of popular memory.

Fox News: I know you two were close, but for those who didn’t know Boris Nemtsov, tell us, what has Russia lost with his murder? 

Kara-Murza: To put it very simply, Boris Nemtsov was the best president Russia never had. He symbolized the very best, not just about politics, but about humanity. You know, there is this stereotype that politics is necessarily a dirty business, that it’s all about compromises and hypocrisy and cynicism and all the rest of it. Well, I know the stereotype to be false because I’ve seen Boris Nemtsov.

He was someone who had held the highest positions in the Russian government during a brief period of democracy in 1990. He was a member of parliament, he was a very successful regional governor, he was a deputy prime minister. He was widely viewed as the most likely successor to President Boris Yeltsin, and, boy, what a different world that would have been.

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Boris Nemtsov was too principled, too bold, to be frightened, and too dangerous to be tolerated.  So, on the night of Feb. 27, 2015, he was silenced by the Putin regime the only way he could be – five bullets in the back.

I know one day we will have Boris Nemtsov streets and squares all over Russia, but the most important monument, the most important tribute to his memory and life, will be when Russia becomes a country he wanted it to be, he fought for and died for – a free, modern, democratic European country.

Fox News: How has Russia changed in these six years? Is it more remote to the Russia Boris Nemtsov was dreaming about, or is it still where Nemtsov left it?

Kara-Murza: There are hundreds of political prisoners in Russia today, people who attend peaceful opposition demonstrations, are beaten up, detained, arrested, sacked from their jobs, expelled from universities. Political murders or attempted murders have almost become a norm in the Putin regime.

Alexei Navalny, the current leader of the Russian opposition, nearly died after being poisoned by a prohibited chemical weapon and nerve agent. He survived, but now is under arrest. I myself have been poisoned twice, both times to near death, both times in a coma with multiple organ failure. In the 21st century, a European country is operating a professional squad of assassins in the employment of the state, whose task it is to physically eliminate opponents of the government. This is a situation we're living in Russia today.

So, to answer your question, no, in these last six years, the regime has been moving Russia in the opposite direction to what Boris Nemtsov believed in and fought for.

Fox News: The world is watching the Alexei Navalny case. As somebody who has been in Russian politics for so long and who also has this in-depth knowledge of Russian politics and history, how would you compare Navalny to Nemtsov?

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Kara-Murza: It’s always difficult to compare human beings because every person is unique, every person is individual. Boris Nemtsov was irreplaceable on a personal level, but I think on the political level as well, because no one has all of those qualities put together that he had.

We are where we are. And the reality is what it is. And we are now living for more than six years without Boris Nemtsov. So if we are sort of transporting ourselves to the present moment, it is absolutely clear that Alexei Navalny is the most powerful, the most effective, the most dangerous political opponent of the Putin regime today.

He has been especially successful at organizing the young generation and appealing to the young generation and channeling these rising protest sentiments into a protest action. Alexei Navalny was also someone who has been very effective in focusing public attention on the astonishing corruption and nepotism of the Putin regime. He produced an investigative film about Putin's lavish Italian style palace constructed on the Russian Black Sea coast with the total price tag of more than one billion U.S. dollars. This in a country where 20 million people, according to official figures, live below the poverty line.

If the Kremlin and the regime think that by imprisoning Navalny, they're going to somehow diminish or silence his voice, they are gravely mistaken, because if anything, his moral authority is now the highest it has ever been.

Fox News: After Navalny’s imprisonment, his allies called on the Biden administration to sanction individuals involved in his poisoning. What do you expect from the new U.S. administration vis-a-vis Russia?

Kara-Murza: Sanctions are only effective on two conditions, when they do not target Russia as a country, but they target those specific high-ranking individuals in the closest entourage of Vladimir Putin who are responsible for these abuses, for this corruption, for these acts of repression. And the second condition is that the sanctions are targeted at the right level and that they do not affect only sort of the mid-level or low-level operatives.

I'm actually hopeful that the Biden administration will adopt a principled position on dealing with the regime of Vladimir Putin. They have the benefit not only of the breadth of experience in the current administration, not only the advantage of lessons learned from the failures of previous administrations, but most importantly, the instincts of the current U.S. president himself.

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Exactly 10 years ago, Joe Biden was here in Moscow as vice president and he made a very pointed, very powerful gesture, a gesture that is very Reagan-esque in its nature and that we see very rarely in the modern world. Straight after his meeting with Putin, Biden went to meet with the Russian opposition leaders, including the late Boris Nemtsov.

The Kremlin propaganda likes to accuse those of us in the opposition that we somehow ask the West to give us money, to give us political support or to come and change the regime in Russia. None of that has anything to do with reality.

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The only thing we ask of our friends and partners in Western democracies is that they stop enabling the Putin regime. All we're asking the West, and above all the United States, is that they stay true to their own values and their own principles. Everything we need to do here in Russia, we're going to do ourselves.