MOSCOW (CNN) — Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed Friday night, shot several times from a car on a bridge he was walking across, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said in a statement Saturday.
He was deputy prime minister in the late 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin and had been one of current President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics.
Putin condemned the killing of Nemtsov, Russian state broadcaster, Russia Today, said early Saturday.
“The Russian President expresses deep condolences to the near and dear of Boris Nemtsov who died tragically,” a spokesman for Putin told Russian state news agency Itar-Tass.
Putin ordered three agencies to put together a task force to investigate the killing, Itar-Tass reported.
A criminal case has been opened for murder and weapons trafficking, the investigative committee said.
The bridge was not far from the Kremlin in a part of the city normally busy on a Friday night. Police were pulling over white cars near the scene of the shooting, a CNN crew observed.
Nemtsov’s death comes two days before a large opposition rally is set to take place in Moscow. Nemtsov, who was in his mid-50s, had been arrested several times in the past for speaking out against the Kremlin.
The most recent came in 2011 when he protested the results of parliamentary elections and in 2012 when tens of thousands protested against Putin.
In a restaurant interview with CNN’s Anthony Bourdain last year he lamented the situation for business owners.
“This is a country of corruption. And if you have business, you are in a very unsafe situation. Everybody can press you and destroy your business. That’s it,” Nemtsov said.
In the same interview, he did offer a bit of optimism.
“This is my country. The Russian people are in bit of trouble. Russian court doesn’t work. Russian education decline every year. I believe that Russia has a chance to be free. Has a chance. It’s difficult, but we must do it,” he said.
Another one of Nemtsov’s criticisms was over the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi. Nemtsov published a report in 2013 describing the Sochi games as one of the most “outrageous swindles” in recent Russian history. He claimed that up to 60% of the final cost — or $30 billion — had been embezzled.
Peter Baker, the author of “Kremlin Rising” and a New York Times reporter, told CNN that Nemtsov used to be powerful but had been marginalized since Putin was elected.
“He was a person who had been fierce in his criticism of Putin. He’d clearly gotten under Putin’s skin on a number of occasions. A number of people had become his enemies,” Baker said
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Saturday “it is hard to believe” that Nemtsov was killed. “I have no doubt that the murderers will be brought to justice. Sooner or later. Rest in peace,” Poroshenko said via Twitter.
CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen reported from Moscow. CNN’s Steve Almasy and Gena Somra reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Ralph Ellis, Alla Eshchenko and Jo Shelley contributed to this report.
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