In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Remembering Boris NemtsovKeith Gessen

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.

It would be​ hard to imagine a less likely political martyr than Boris Nemtsov. He was loud, brash, boastful, vain and a tireless womaniser. My favourite story about him came from a Moscow journalist who once shared a cab with Nemtsov and a photographer whom he’d been wooing to no avail. It was late at night and he fell asleep. The photographer was the first to be dropped off, and Nemtsov suddenly woke up. ‘So what do you say?’ he asked. Receiving another no, he went back to sleep.

Nemtsov was a young physicist in Nizhny Novgorod when perestroika began. He got involved in protest politics and was elected to the first democratic Supreme Soviet in 1990, associating himself with the anti-Soviet, ‘democratic’ wing. He caught Boris Yeltsin’s eye and was appointed governor of Nizhny Novgorod. After six years with mixed results, he was called back to the Kremlin to join the cabinet of ‘young reformers’ who, it was claimed, would renew economic progress for Yeltsin’s second term. Nemtsov was the most handsome among them, and a physicist, and Jewish! Looking at photos of him with Yeltsin, who sometimes presented Nemtsov as his successor, one couldn’t help but be filled with hope. Then Nemtsov opened his mouth. The first time I saw him on TV was during a celebration of the ageing pop singer Alla Pugacheva; he reminded her that she’d once said she liked sleeping with her husband because he reminded her of Nemtsov. It was a strange performance for the future hope of Russian democracy.

I spent a week with Nemtsov many years later, in 2009, when he was running for mayor of Sochi. He was still amazing. It was early spring in Russia and yet Nemtsov had a full tan. Everywhere we went he wore blue jeans, a black jacket and a white shirt with the top three buttons undone. He addressed everyone he met with the familiar ty, which was rude, and he hit on all the women journalists. But he was totally committed to what he was doing, and bizarrely, bull-headedly, fearless. By this point he had started publishing short, well-researched reports about corruption in both the presidential administration and the Moscow mayoralty. Later he would publish one about construction of the various Olympic sites in Sochi. Whoever he was speaking to he would say: ‘Have you read my book about that? You need to read my book about that.’ And he would start making arrangements to send them a pamphlet.

His campaign in Sochi was quixotic. This former governor and deputy prime minister, ten years out of government, was travelling around in a rented yellow minivan, trying to get people on the street to talk to him. Most of them recognised him, he was a celebrity, but they weren’t about to stick their necks out for him. His rallies were poorly attended. His volunteers put up posters with his handsome face only to find they’d been torn down overnight. (The Kremlin had agreed to let him register his candidacy but had no intention of letting him win.) He was subjected to relentless attacks on his character in the local and national media. A group of young men, who for some reason were wearing dresses, splashed ammonia on him before a press conference.

On my first night in Sochi, Nemtsov and the former chess champion turned oppositionist Garry Kasparov, who was helping him on the campaign trail, attended the birthday party of a local teenager. Then they spent hours drinking and kibitzing with her parents. Nemtsov was furious that the local governor, Alexander Tkachev, who was presumably in charge of most of the harassment directed at his campaign, could treat him so shabbily. ‘You’re from New York,’ Nemtsov said at one point, turning to me. ‘Who is more popular in New York, Nemtsov or Tkachev?’ The answer was Nemtsov, but we weren’t in New York.

Nemtsov’s time as deputy prime minister in the cabinet of ‘young reformers’ had been a catastrophe. The main characteristics of Russia’s post-Soviet system had been put in place by Yeltsin and the previous set of reformers: extraordinary powers for the president; a purely decorative parliament; much of the industrial and oil wealth of the country in the hands of a few well-connected businessmen. Nemtsov and the others declared that they were undertaking another round of ‘shock therapy’ and tried to raise the alarm about the oligarchs. It didn’t work out well. After more than a year of chaos, Russia defaulted on its treasury bonds. The ruble collapsed and Nemtsov and the others were out. ‘Russia needs to enter the 21st century with only young people,’ Nemtsov had said shortly after coming to Moscow. On New Year’s Eve 1999, Yeltsin would use almost exactly the same words to introduce his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin.

The terrible state of Russia’s economy and its institutions wasn’t entirely Nemtsov’s fault, but he refused, along with almost all the rest of his cohort, to reflect on what had gone wrong in the 1990s. Asked if things should have been done differently, he would say that fixing the presidential election in 1996 had been a mistake, ‘a bad omen’. But he didn’t question the actual reforms, the haste and brutality with which they were undertaken, or the fact that they created a small class of successful post-Soviet winners (like Nemtsov) and a much larger underclass of forgotten and discarded losers. Instead he blamed everything that went wrong in the next 15 years on Putin. ‘When is that bastard finally going to go away?’ he said in Sochi in 2009. ‘When?’

He was wrong to hold Putin responsible for all of Russia’s problems, but the error kept him going. By the time of the Sochi election, most of the other ‘young reformers’ had either gone into academia or accepted technocratic positions in the Putin administration; later apostates assumed more or less quiet positions in the opposition. But Nemtsov not only remained active, he was tremendously outspoken. And most of his anger was directed squarely at Putin. The reports he wrote included Putin: A Summing-Up; Putin and Gazprom; Putin and the Financial Crisis; Putin and Corruption. The next report was going to be about Putin and the war in Ukraine.

The reports were neither groundbreaking nor particularly well written; they tended to rely on published accounts from open sources. But they were always well publicised, and their way of gathering the known facts, as well as their association with Nemtsov, meant they were useful as agit-prop tools. More than anything there was the incongruity of it. If you had asked in 1998 who of the 1990s politicians would 15 years later still be going out and protesting, getting arrested, publishing critical reports and putting himself in danger, I don’t think anyone would have said Nemtsov. And yet Nemtsov was the one – the only one.

Russians have witnessed so many killings of regime opponents in the past twenty years that it’s become one of their chief areas of expertise. When Putin’s press secretary, the soft-spoken, bewhiskered Dmitry Peskov, said after the killing of Nemtsov that the Kremlin couldn’t have had anything to do with it because Nemtsov wasn’t an influential politician, people were reminded of what Putin had said immediately after the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed. ‘Her influence over political life in Russia was minimal. Murdering such a person certainly does much greater damage from the authorities’ point of view … than her publications ever did.’ Seven years later, Peskov on Nemtsov: ‘In political terms he did not pose any threat to the current Russian leadership or Vladimir Putin. If we compare popularity levels, Putin’s and the government’s ratings and so on, in general Boris Nemtsov was just a little bit more than an average citizen.’ This was grotesque. It made them sound guilty. And yet it almost made them sound innocent too. Wouldn’t the cold-blooded murderers of a political opponent have the good sense simply to express their sadness at the loss and leave it at that? Maybe. But then again, if these guys had been geniuses, they’d have done a lot of things differently.

By comparison to the previous killings, a few things stand out. One is the bizarre proximity to the Kremlin: Nemtsov lived across the river from Red Square, so it wasn’t a strange place for him to be, yet surely there were less obvious places where he could have been shot – places where no one would have been able to take photos of his body with St Basil’s Cathedral looming in the background. Another was the remarkable level of efficiency. A security camera captured the entire event from a distance, and it happened with great speed. The killer fired six rounds, four of them on target, then jumped into a car which pulled up at that moment and whisked him away.

That the killing was a highly professional job doesn’t necessarily mean it was ordered by the highest professional. We don’t know much about the way the Kremlin works. We know that there are things Putin doesn’t like to be asked about: they’re too small-time. But we also seem to know that there are things Putin demands to be in charge of. It’s just hard to know which category a thing falls into. The difficulty of telling the difference must account at least in part for the ineffectiveness of the Putin regime.

The biggest difference between this killing and the many others that preceded it was Nemtsov’s prominence. The journalists Dmitry Kholodov, Paul Klebnikov, Politkovskaya, the human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, the Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova: none was so immediately recognisable to so many people; none had once been so high up in government. None had been labelled enemy number one by the nationalists and other pro-Kremlin activists who have emerged as if from a time warp to take up the banner of the war against Ukraine. That war was Nemtsov’s finest moment. On 2 March 2014, when it first became clear what was happening, Nemtsov wrote a furious article which the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy refused to post on its site unless he took out some of the more inflammatory language. So he posted it on Facebook instead:

Putin has declared a war of brother against brother in Ukraine. This bloody folly by a crazed KGB man will cost Russia and Ukraine dear: once again the deaths of young boys on both sides, bereft mothers and wives, children turned into orphans. An empty Crimea, which tourists will never visit. Billions, tens of billions of rubles, taken from old people and children and thrown into the furnace of the war, and then after that even more money to prop up the thieving regime in Crimea … The ghoul needs a war. He needs the blood of the people. Russia can look forward to international isolation, the impoverishment of its people, and repressions. God, why should we be cursed like this??? How much longer can we take it?!

It was a remarkable performance from someone who could long since have retired from politics. Nemtsov enjoyed windsurfing and paragliding in places like Venezuela – hence his nice tan. He could have moved to New York like his friend Kasparov.

Ukraine has been the question hanging over the Putin administration since 2004. In the minds of Putin and his people, it’s the final battle. If Ukraine can be kept out of the hands of the West, Russia wins. If it joins the EU and Nato, Russia is effectively reduced to borders not seen since the time of Peter the Great. What’s puzzling is that Nemtsov’s murder took place just two weeks after Russia to all intents and purposes won the war. At the negotiations in Minsk, Ukraine effectively surrendered. It had already fallen into chaos. The government is unpopular, the volunteer battalions have minds of their own, and the economy is in ruins: we’ve heard a lot from Western politicians about the collapse of the Russian currency (it’s lost 50 per cent of its value over the last year), but less about the collapse of the hryvnia, which has gone from eight to the dollar before Maidan to 24 to the dollar today. If, as most believe, Putin’s goal, if he couldn’t have Ukraine, was to destabilise it, he’s achieved it. But the price appears to have been Russia’s domestic tranquillity. The general mobilisation in support of the president has taken increasingly ugly forms. In December, in the stadium in Grozny in front of thousands of armed men, Ramzan Kadyrov put himself and his troops forward as the president’s special volunteer battalion. ‘We know that the country has an army, a navy, an airforce and nuclear capabilities,’ he said, ‘but we also know that there are some missions that can only be accomplished by volunteers.’ Two months later, a week before Nemtsov’s murder, a biker gang called the Night Wolves led a big meeting in Moscow called Anti-Maidan, with the slogan, ‘There won’t be a Maidan in Russia.’* Ukraine has lost the war, but what the war has done to Russia may be even worse.

For years now there has been speculation about a ‘party of war’, which periodically stages provocations in order to push the president into decisive action. The party of war was said to have manoeuvred Yeltsin into Chechnya and, more conspiratorially still, to have blown up the apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999 to push Putin into Chechnya in his turn. The party of war may also have sent Igor Strelkov and his merry band of murderers into eastern Ukraine last spring, to turn an inchoate set of local protests into the beginnings of a civil war. But does the party of war actually exist? We’re unlikely ever to know, even after all the archives have been opened and all the email accounts hacked. It is, however, a useful concept, even if its only function is to describe one part of Putin’s mind that’s in dialogue or competition with another. It would explain why Putin sometimes goes forward and sometimes steps back. And it gives at least a small space for hope, since if there’s a party of war there is also, presumably, a party of peace, and it might just win.

I always thought that Nemtsov would make it, that he would be shielded from the vengeance of the system in part because he was Nemtsov. He had a PhD in physics, but he wasn’t a serious thinker, nor did he pretend to be one. You could never tell if he was speaking out because he believed what he was saying or because he couldn’t stand being ignored. Or if he kept getting arrested at opposition rallies because he considered it an act of conscience or because he liked getting his picture taken (sometimes, when they arrested him, the police tore his shirt, and you could get an extra glimpse of his tan). Did he hate Putin because of what he’d done to the country, or because he felt cheated out of his birthright by their shared mercurial surrogate father, Boris Yeltsin? He was a narcissist, and there was his way with young women. On the last night of his life, he went with his girlfriend, a Ukrainian model called Anna Duritskaya, to a nice restaurant in the upscale mall just across Red Square from the Kremlin. Then they walked in the rain across the bridge towards his apartment.

Who knows why people do the things they do? Who knows why Nemtsov kept fighting for some kind of change in a country to which he himself had brought a lot of pain? And neither do we know exactly why they killed him. But it’s clear that it wasn’t for his human flaws, or for his contribution to the economic catastrophe of the 1990s. He was killed for his opposition to the war. Since the start, critics have been warning that the war in Ukraine would eventually come home to Moscow. No matter who pulled the trigger on the bridge, it has.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.