Here’s how you know Russian politics are different from those practiced in the United States: On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave two of the country’s highest awards to men who have been center stage in its most prominent murder cases: the weeks-old shooting death near the Kremlin of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and the 2006 radioactive poisoning in London of a former Russian spy.
The recipients were the Chechen authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted in the United Kingdom on accusations of using polonium to poison Alexander Litvinenko, a onetime Russian spy who became a journalist critical of Putin.
Kadyrov has been a vocal advocate of the theory that Islamic radicals killed Nemtsov because of his support for those gunned down in January at the Paris office of the publication Charlie Hebdo, and he has heaped praise on the suspects Russian police have arrested in the murder.
Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, said on German media this week that such an explanation lacked credibility, noting that her father only once, and as one among millions, voiced support for the victims of the Paris attack. On the other hand, she said, he had been a constant and longtime critic of Putin.
Nemtsov was killed late on Feb. 27 in the highly trafficked and usually secure vicinity of the Kremlin.
Nemtsov’s supporters have noted that the area is one of the most policed areas of Moscow, suggesting that the attack couldn’t have been the work of anyone without the support of the Putin administration. They’ve also said Nemtsov was preparing to release a report detailing the extent of regular Russian military involvement in the war in the southeastern Ukrainian region known as Donbas.
The Putin administration has denied any involvement in the murder and has maintained that the fighting in Donbas is by pro-Russian separatists, perhaps aided by Russian soldiers on vacation from their usual duties.
It was Putin who handed out the medals Monday: a Medal of Honor and a Medal for Service to the Fatherland. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, noted that such award ceremonies are months in the making, so the timing so soon after the Nemtsov murder is purely coincidental. He also said the awards had nothing to do with murder or murder plot allegations but with service to Russia.
But the timing is difficult to ignore. Peskov said Kadyrov had received the honor in recognition of his professional success.