Bill would name DC street outside Russian Embassy for slain Putin dissident

The Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Story highlights

  • The honorary renaming is meant to send a message to Russia and the world
  • A DC council member was approached to take up the bill by Sens. Rubio and Coons
  • This wouldn't be the first time a Russian Embassy's address was so renamed

Washington (CNN)New legislation championed by two DC Council members would symbolically change the name of a small stretch of road outside the Russian Embassy to that of Boris Nemtsov, a pro-democracy Russian dissident who was assassinated in Moscow in 2015.

The honorary renaming is meant to send a message to Russia and the rest of the world, according to council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who cosponsored the bill with Chairman Phil Mendelson. The bill would symbolically rename the stretch of Wisconsin Avenue to 1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza, adding that name to the street sign. The measure is scheduled to get its first hearing next week.
"We want to show solidarity with folks around the world who really make this extraordinary effort under adverse circumstances to try to bring democracy to their people," Cheh told CNN. "This gentleman was a physician, a statesman, a really important character in Russia and a proponent of democracy, and he was assassinated in his role."
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    Nemtsov was a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Cheh was approached to take up the legislation by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, who had previously introduced similar legislation in Congress to honorarily rename the street, which was unsuccessful.
    "Two years ago, Boris Nemtsov was murdered on a Moscow bridge within view of the Kremlin," Rubio said in a statement in February. "He was just one of Vladimir Putin's critics who have wound up dead or hospitalized as the regime cracks down on any opposition and rules Russia with an iron fist. Putin may hope Nemtsov's murder deters dissent, but we must continue to support Russia's pro-democracy movement so that does not happen."
    Members of Congress have jurisdiction over DC and the ability to pass bills to rename streets.
    "They asked me to sponsor legislation on the local level," Cheh said. "Really this is something that the local government should take a lead on. These are our streets. But I was very pleased to do it."
    Cheh added that she had met with Nemtsov's daughter before making the decision to back the legislation.
    This wouldn't be the first time a Russian Embassy's address was honorarily renamed. Back in 1987, street signs outside the then-Soviet Embassy were changed to include the moniker of Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet human rights activist who had been placed under internal exile.
    Andrei Sakharov Plaza encompassed the one-block area that is now where the Russian ambassador's residence stands.
    Members of Congress and DC Council members have a history of renaming or attempting to rename streets in the city to make political statements.
    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, introduced a bill in 2014 with Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, to symbolically rename a stretch of the street in front of the Chinese Embassy to commemorate imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
    GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas pushed a similar bill on the matter in 2016, but President Barack Obama warned he would veto it.
    Other symbolically renamed streets in the District of Columbia include tributes to singer Marvin Gaye, poet Langston Hughes and activist Malcolm X.