Ambassador Matlock Questions Putin Involvement in Nemtsov Murder

I have found Ambassador Jack Matlock to be an invaluable source of contrarian information on modern-day Russia, and have quoted him here a number of times.* Having served as Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Moscow, “When Jack Matlock speaks, people should listen.” Unfortunately few do because the major media rarely cover news which conflicts with the prevailing narrative that Putin is guilty until proven innocent, no matter what the crime. That kind of group think got us into both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. It’s time we started questioning our assumptions before getting caught up, yet again, in what could become a drumbeat to war with a nation that possesses thousands of nuclear weapons. As part of that process of becoming more informed and more objective, I highly recommend Ambassador Matlock’s latest post “Is Nemtsov’s Murder a Replay of Kirov’s?

Boris Nemtsov, of course, is the opposition politician who was gunned down in cold blood last Friday within sight of the Kremlin. Here are some key excerpts from Ambassador Matlock’s post:

Responding to the shock of the gang-style execution of Nemtsov in Moscow, Duma Deputy [and Putin critic] Ilya Ponomarev, speaking at Tufts University yesterday, said that it reminded him of the Kirov assassination [which Stalin had secretly ordered, and then used as an excuse to purge his own political opponents] … 

Many persons at the Tufts symposium assumed, upon hearing the shocking news, that Putin himself ordered the assassination and did so as a stern warning to other would-be oppositionists. This was a natural reaction for anyone who assumes that Putin exercises the sort of total control of Russia that Stalin once did of the Soviet Union. It identifies a motivation that cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Still, there is something missing in that knee-jerk reaction. Isn’t it a goal of any authoritarian government to persuade the people it governs that it is in complete control? Does not much support of authoritarian governments come from the belief that they provide order and security? One of the reasons the Putin regime has sustained its popularity is that it brought order to the chaos of the 1990s. A contract killing of a prominent person within the shadow of the Kremlin does not comport with the image of a government in complete control.

I have received privately an analysis of the situation by an observer of the Russian scene who was in Moscow last week. I found the observations important and have been given permission to share them here.

See Ambassador Matlock’s full article for what his source said, but the first sentence summarizes his conclusion, “I do not think Putin was behind this.” He then goes on to explain why he believes that. Of course, he may be wrong and Putin may be guilty of this murder, but we need to consider all perspectives before jumping to conclusions.

For a nation that prides itself on “innocent until proven guilty,” we have done a particularly poor job with respect to perceived enemies, such as Vietnam in the 1960s, Iraq in 2003, and Russia in the last few years. If you agree that a more objective, less biased approach is needed to prevent needless wars, with their attendant needless nuclear risk, please share this article with others. Thank you.

Martin Hellman

* To find my other posts which mention Ambassador Matlock, type Matlock in the SEARCH box at the upper right.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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1 Response to Ambassador Matlock Questions Putin Involvement in Nemtsov Murder

  1. Nuclear Risk says:

    A friend, whose opinion I value, pointed me to a post which he believes is more accurate, written by jailed Putin opponent Alexey Navalny, and which blames Putin for Nemtsov’s murder. As I noted in my original post, Ambassador Matlock’s source may be wrong in believing that Putin was not behind the murder. Navalny does blame Putin, but makes a similar disclaimer: “May my theory of this murder be a mistake? I am confident about it, but certainly any man may be wrong.” He goes on to suggest that the only thing which will prove him wrong is for the Russian government to fully investigate this murder and bring all of those guilty to justice – an unlikely outcome that I, too, would like to see.

    The point of my post was not that Putin was innocent or guilty. Rather, I wanted to highlight how we as a nation have made hasty decisions in the past which caused unbelievable human suffering and hurt our national security. So why are we jumping to conclusions again, especially when a voice as authoritative as Ambassador Matlock’s raises questions? (It does not claim to have the answers.) Of course, Navalny’s and similar opinioms also need to be incorporated into that process.

    Finally, there is another key point that seems to get lost in the debate over this despicable murder: Even if Navalny’s worst fears turn out to be true and Putin was directly responsible for ordering Nemtsov’s murder, what can and should the US do about it?

    We maintain close relations with a number of highly questionable regimes, so why is Putin’s Russia so different? (As just two examples, Saudi Arabia is far from a paragon of virtue by Western standards, and
    it is a capital crime in Afghanistan
    – under “our government” – to convert from Islam to Christianity.)

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