This was almost certainly carried out at the behest of Chechen warlord-president Ramzan Kadyrov without Putin’s knowledge or direct encouragement. It was a serious embarrassment to the Kremlin, a shock to an elite who considered Nemtsov one of theirs — regardless of his political views — and led even the security agencies to advocate taking Kadyrov out of the picture.

Ultimately, though, Putin vetoed any such measures, and Kadyrov was allowed to, quite literally, get away with murde


Why? Because of his own “dark power,” because of a prevailing belief in Moscow that he and his oath-sworn “Kadyrovtsy” could not be reasoned with, and would pose an unpredictable and dangerous threat if challenged.

So Kadyrov won himself impunity, and has since continued to extort generous federal subsidies from Moscow sufficient to maintain both his own extravagant lifestyle and his grip on power in his virtual satrapy.

But he made no friends, and with the exception of National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov and, perhaps, the mercurial president himself, is faced with a Moscow elite eager to see him fall. As one security insider told me last year, “if Islamic State manage to get Kadyrov, Moscow will cry at his funeral and then dance at his wake.”

Babchenko’s murder is not just a human tragedy and a terrible loss to his profession. Whoever killed him, for whatever reason, it is already being regarded as another “Kremlin hit,” another milestone on Russia’s slide into pariah status.

Increasingly, Putin is to the world what Kadyrov is to Moscow, which is a tragedy for Russia and for Russians.

Prof. Mark Galeotti is a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and the author of the new book “The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia.” The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.