Nemstov, an anti-Putin critic and Russia's opposition leader, died after four bullets struck his back and one of them entered his heart

One of the men charged with the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was repeatedly decorated for "bravery" by Russian officials. The former Russian Chechen special forces soldier, Zaur Dadaïev (Zaur Dadayev), admitted to participating in the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in Moscow on 27 February, 2015.

He is one of five men, all from the North Caucasus region, who were presented before a court in Moscow on 8 March, just over a week after the assassination of the former deputy prime minister under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. Nemtsov, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot four times in the back as he walked with his girlfriend along a bridge in the heart of the Russian capital.

Decorated soldier

Designated as the main suspect, Dadaïev had served 10 years in a unit of the Chechen special forces, the Sever battalion of Chechnya's interior ministry, according to the state news agency TASS. Before leaving the military service, Dadaïev had the rank of a lieutenant and held the position of a battalion's deputy commander in a regiment of the 46th separate operative brigade of Russia's Interior Ministry troops.

The president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, said on his Instagram account: "Zaur was one of the bravest men in the regiment. He displayed particular courage in an operation against a large group of terrorists near Benoi. He was awarded the Order of Courage, and medals For Bravery and For Services to the Chechen Republic. I am certain that he was sincerely dedicated to Russia and prepared to give his life for the Motherland. The real reasons and motives behind Dadayev's dismissal from the Russian Interior Ministry troops are unclear to me. I must say once again that he would have never taken a single step against Russia, for the sake of which he had risked his own life for many years."

Zaur Dadaïev murder Boris Nemtsov
Zaur Dadaïev, charged with involvement in the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. Reuters

The Chechen link

Believed to be aged about thirty, Dadaïev was arrested on 7 March in Ingushetia, a neighbouring republic to Chechnya in the volatile Russian Caucasus region.

"Dadaïev's participation in the murder was confirmed by his confession," said judge Natalia Mouchnikova. According to TASS, Dadaïev was decorated for his "courage in fulfilling his military duty" in 2010 by the Russian interior minister at the time, Rashid Nurgaliyev.

Of the four other suspects, two brothers from Ingushetia were also arrested in the region, while the other two were arrested in the Moscow region. Dadaïev is the only one to have admitted his participation. Anzor Gubashev who is also charged with the killing, along with his brother Shagid Gubashev, Ramzan Bakhayev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov all maintain their innocence.

"The suspects have denied [any] involvement in the crime but investigators have evidence of their involvement," a representative of the court said, according to news agencies. A sixth suspect died by detonating a grenade at the time of his arrest, as his home in Grozny (the capital of Chechnya) was surrounded by security forces.

A plethora of theories

On the evening of 8 March, Kadyrov linked the murder to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was the target of a deadly shooting in Paris on 7 January: "Anyone who knows Zaur [Dadaïev] can confirm he is a deeply religious man and, like all Muslims, he was deeply shocked by Charlie Hebdo's cartoons [depicting the Prophet Mohammed]."

While the Russia security services also evoked the Islamic theory – such as looking into Nemtsov's support for the victims of the January attacks in Paris – they are also considering the idea Nemtsov could have been targeted by disgruntled Russian nationalists after he criticised the role of Russia in the Ukrainian crisis.