Last week’s assassination of Boris Nemtsov in the shadows of the Kremlin is the most significant political killing to occur in the 15 years Vladimir Putin, Russian president and thug-in-chief, has been in power.

Not because Nemtsov had any realistic hope of challenging Putin for power (he didn’t), but rather because of what Nemtsov represented. He was the rarest of all creatures in Russia’s political constellation – a true reformer whose ethical compass pointed due north.

Political assassinations have often been employed in Russia as an effective tool for keeping order. Finger-pointing and professed outrage are the traditional aftermath, and we’re seeing that now. But soon, usually very soon, world events begin to eclipse the killing and things settle back into what passes for normal in Russia.

We can only hope this will be different. But it is more likely to presage a new wave of violence.

A protege of former President Boris Yeltsin, Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Putin’s policies in Ukraine and had said he was going to release evidence that Putin’s government had a very heavy hand in fueling the supposedly independent efforts of the fighters in eastern Ukraine. His death has prompted tens of thousands of Russians to publicly mourn him, many attending his funeral Tuesday – another likely reason for more rather than less violent suppression.

Nemtsov’s murder occurred in the most heavily guarded, watched and photographed section of Moscow, yet no one has any pictures of the drive-by shooting. The bridge on which he was killed was within sight of the Kremlin. It has to be monitored intensely. But, somehow, nothing got recorded.

Some intellectuals suggest Putin could use this killing the way Stalin used the 1934 murder of the charismatic Bolshevik Sergei Kirov to unleash a time of terror and purges. Conditions in Russia and the world are somewhat different now, but we wouldn’t put it past Putin to try.