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Russian Media Fights 'Demonization' of Putin Following Nemtsov Murder

A corpse on a bloodstained bridge, with the Kremlin's red stars glowing behind: the perfect symbolic backdrop, Russian media say, for the West to step up a campaign to vilify President Vladimir Putin. Faced with a wave of revulsion around the world at the assassination of leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, the loyal media establishment is on the counter-attack, preparing Russians for a malicious propaganda campaign by a hostile West.

"And they say that's how the 'bloody regime' kills its competitors. The world is outraged and indignant. And then — sanctions, credit downgrades and the further demonization of Russia and its leader," Dmitry Kiselyov, a television anchor reputed to be one of Putin's favorite journalists, told his prime-time audience on Sunday evening.

"At a time when there is grief, to engage in polemics is disgusting."

With the gunning-down of Nemtsov in central Moscow late Friday, Russia enters a new phase of the 'us or them' tug-of-war that has played out in the media, increasingly pliant to Putin, since Ukrainians took to the streets and overthrew their Moscow-leaning president just over a year ago.Russia accused the West of backing 'a coup d'etat' in Ukraine. Now those who support the West or Ukraine are called traitors or a 'fifth column,' a term Putin used a year ago to suggest the presence of internal enemies ready to help stir up discontent. It was a term familiar to Nemtsov who, along with many opposition figures, had criticized Putin for annexing Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, supporting separatists in east Ukraine and causing the West to impose sanctions on Russia.

While the murder is so far unsolved, Putin's critics say the 'fifth column' rhetoric has helped to create a climate in which pro-Kremlin hardliners could have felt they were performing a patriotic duty in disposing of a man like Nemtsov.