US intelligence agencies killed opposition leader Boris Nemtsov to orchestrate a regime change in Russia, pro-Kremlin activists that include a senator and the leader of Russian President Vladimir Putin's favorite biker gang said at a press conference in Moscow.
Referring to the pro-Western Euromaidan protests in Kiev that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, the leaders of Russia's "Anti-Maidan" movement said Nemtsov had become the "first victim of Maidan in Russia" when he was killed by four bullets to the back in view of the Kremlin on Friday night. Pundits in state media have often argued the Kiev protests were a US-organized "coup" that brought a "fascist junta" to power.
A former prime minister, Nemtsov had written several reports on state corruption and was reportedly working on one about Russian military support for rebels in eastern Ukraine. But nationalist author Nikolai Starikov argued at the press conference that the opposition leader had actually been an asset of US intelligence who had worked against Russia's interests throughout his career.
"To me it's obvious that the instigators of Nemtsov's murder were his American curators, who always use the same methods. As soon as a revolutionary becomes ineffective, as soon as his death will bring more use than his activities, they kill him, then create a big furor around it to give his death more significance," he said.
Starikov has long been a voice of warning against "Anglo-Saxon" conspiracies and has written such books as "1917: Not a Revolution, But an Intelligence Operation" and "Russia's Main Enemy: All Evil Comes from the West." He was joined by Senator Dmitry Sablin, a former deputy of the ruling United Russia party in the lower house of parliament, and Alexander "Surgeon" Zaldostanov, the head of the Night Wolves biker gang who has often been photographed with the Russian president. Putin once even rode a three-wheel Harley alongside Zaldostanov during a visit to Novorossiysk in 2011.
Sablin, Starikov and Zaldostanov had announced in January that they were creating an "Anti-Maidan" movement to fight pro-democracy protests against Putin's government. Anti-Maidan members later shouted down peace activists at a protest against the conflict between the government and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
In February, Zaldostanov and thousands others came out for an Anti-Maidan march in downtown Moscow to mark the anniversary of the "coup" against Yanukovych, carrying signs such as "We Don't Need American Democracy," "Putin Is Our President" and "We Don't Need Your Western Ideology and Gay Parades."
Opposition leaders and political analysts have said Nemtsov's killing was far more likely linked to an "atmosphere of hatred" toward Kremlin critics than foreign intelligence services. Patriotic paranoia had been spread by state-controlled television coverage during the Ukraine crisis and was given expression by Putin, who warned of a "fifth column" of "national traitors" during a broadcast in December. Several analysts have argued that the most likely culprit is an ultranationalist or Kremlin-linked group seeking to push Putin to continue military support for rebels in eastern Ukraine rather than work toward a peace plan agreed in Minsk, Belarus, in February.
In a suggestion that it may also secretly suspect the far right, Russia's investigative committee appointed Igor Krasnov, a detective known for successful investigations of nationalists accused of political murders, to head the Nemtsov case.
But Starikov argued that Nemtsov's killing was a "classic example" of the "Maidan technologies" used by US intelligence to orchestrate coups in Ukraine and other countries. He added that it was actually the democratic opposition that was promoting intolerance and unrest, reading out quotes by anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny and other prominent activists and journalists criticizing Russia and its population. "Who is really creating this atmosphere of hate? We need to pay attention to these people, they are indirectly responsible for murder of Boris Nemtsov," he said.
Zaldostanov complained that Anti-Maidan activists wearing the St. George's ribbon, a Russian symbol for military victories widely worn by Putin supporters, had been prevented from joining Sunday's 50,000-strong memorial march for Nemtsov. The ribbon has become an unofficial symbol of the Russia-backed rebellion in eastern Ukraine, of which Nemtsov was an outspoken opponent.
"When they don't let some guys with St. George's ribbon join the column, when some faggot in a homosexual voice says that that the ribbon is a symbol of bloodshed, I can't understand that," Zaldostanov said.
The Anti-Maidan leaders said that they considered themselves part of Russia's political opposition, but the press conference took place in the headquarters of Rossiya Segodnya ("Russia Today"), the Kremlin's media arm. Their statements also echoed official rhetoric: Both Putin's spokesman and the investigative committee have suggested Nemtsov's murder is a "provocation" against Russia.
Following Nemtsov's killing, Russia will face protests and further "provocations," including more killings, according to Starikov, as the US agents attempt to destabilize the situation in the country and overthrow the government.
"To say there is no danger and we're fighting with phantoms is to deny reality," he said. "The attempt to shake up the situation in Russia has started with Nemtsov's murder…. We have seen so many successful and unsuccessful coups according to the Maidan scenario. This destabilization happens in any country where the United States is trying to achieve regime change."
Follow Alec Luhn on Twitter: @ASLuhn