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 Russian President and Thug-in-Chief Vladimir Putin has been in power. Not because Nemtsov had any realistic hope of challenging Putin for power. But rather because Nemtsov was the rarest of all creatures in Russia’s political constellation — a true reformer.

Political assassinations have often been employed in Russia for keeping order. Finger-pointing and professed outrage are the traditional aftermath, and we’re seeing that now. But very soon 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 protégé of former President Boris Yeltsin, Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Putin’s policies in Ukraine. His death has prompted tens of thousands to publicly mourn him — another likely reason for more violent suppression.

Nemtsov’s murder occurred in the most heavily guarded and photographed section of Moscow, yet no one has pictures of the drive-by shooting.

Putin has promised to fully investigate. Great. That’s like having O.J. Simpson roaming the world’s golf courses looking for “the real killer.” Putin will find someone to blame. He always does. He warned several years ago that his opposition might kill one of its own leaders to create a martyr, and that ludicrous theory was revived over the weekend.

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. We wouldn’t put it past Putin to try.