The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would change the name of the Northwest Washington street where the Russian Embassy is located to honor Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition leader who was assassinated in Moscow in 2015.
If the legislation is approved, the block of Wisconsin Avenue between Edmonds and Davis streets would be called "Boris Nemtsov Plaza." The new name would appear under the existing Wisconsin Avenue street sign, although no addresses on that designated block would change.
Ward 3 council member Mary M. Cheh (D) introduced the legislation and said the sign would commemorate the leader of Russia's pro-Democracy opposition and serve as a reminder of America's democratic values. She said the Russian Embassy does not have a say in whether the street name is changed.
"The man was assassinated, and he was someone fighting for democracy in Russia, and he is a hero," Cheh said. "But, of course, he is not being treated as a hero in Russia."
Cheh said she was approached by members of the Senate about changing the street name. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the original sponsor of Senate legislation that would change the name in honor of Nemtsov. That legislation hasn't moved in the Senate, so she said senators approached her about getting the local legislation passed instead. Rubio is one of nine Republican and Democratic senators listed as sponsors of the bill. Others include Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The federal government has the power to pass legislation to change a street name in the nation's capital and also can vote to overturn legislation passed by the D.C. government.
"Renaming the street in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington after the late Boris Nemtsov would be a permanent reminder to Vladimir Putin and his cronies that the world condemns the intimidation and murder of opposition figures in Russia, and that defenders of liberty will not be silenced," Rubio's office said in a statement. "This is a clear message that the United States stands with those Russians working toward a free and democratic future for their country."
The Senate and D.C. Council have used street names in the past as a way to rebuke the government of a nearby embassy. In 1984, the Senate renamed the street in front of the previous Russian Embassy on 16th Street NW after Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov.
And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is trying to rename the street outside the Chinese Embassy after Liu Xiaobo, a pro-democracy dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner who died in a Chinese prison this year. Cruz pushed a bill through the Senate on the matter in 2016, but then-President Barack Obama said he would veto it, and it died in the Senate.
Cheh said she expects a hearing on the legislation early next year. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) is listed as a co-sponsor.
"No matter what is going on in this country, we should still be the beacon for fighting democracy," Cheh said. "Once this was presented to me, it seemed so right."