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US lawmakers overwhelmingly condemn Kremlin for Nemtsov killing

United States House of Representatives chamber at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2017. (Office of the Speaker of the House/WikiMedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. lawmakers have passed a measure that sharply criticizes Russian President Vladimir Putin for what it says is the Kremlin’s involvement in the killing of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov and the targeting of other political opponents.

The House of Representatives passed the nonbinding resolution 416-1 on March 12.

“This resolution condemns the Kremlin’s systematic targeting of its political opponents and calls on the administration to impose sanctions on those responsible for Nemtsov’s murder and cover-up,” Representative Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a speech before the vote.

A former deputy prime minister and charismatic opponent to Putin, Nemtsov was shot and killed in 2015 on a bridge near the Kremlin.

Five men from the Chechnya region were convicted and sentenced to prison for the killing in 2017, but Nemtsov’s relatives and supporters have long accused officials of failing to identify and prosecute the mastermind or masterminds.

Government critics have voiced suspicion that the culprits will never face justice because an honest investigation could lead to figures who are close to Moscow-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov or to Putin’s inner circle.

The House measure calls for the administration to use a 2012 human rights law known as the Magnitsky Act to investigate and target people involved in the murder and calls on U.S. intelligence agencies to give Congress a detailed report on the matter.

Putin’s spokesman said that the Kremlin would ignore the resolution, telling journalists that the killing was a “domestic Russian matter” and that “references made in documents adopted by third countries are of no importance.”

“As for the investigation, it is not the Kremlin’s point of view that is important but the opinion of the investigative authorities, who are continuing their work,” the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on March 13.

Putin and his government often assert that the Russian law enforcement agencies and courts are independent, but activists and lawyers say they routinely do the bidding of the Kremlin and authorities at other levels.

The Nemtsov measure was one of several passed by the House on March 12 that targeted Russian policy. Another condemned Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Another that is due to be voted on later this week calls on the director of U.S. National Intelligence to submit a report on Putin’s financial assets.

The United States “should do more to expose the corruption of Vladimir Putin, whose ill-gotten wealth is perhaps the most powerful global symbol of his dishonesty and his persistent efforts to undermine the rule of law and democracy in the Russian Federation,” the measure said.