Correction: An earlier version of this editorial gave the wrong date for a D.C. Council hearing on renaming a block in front of the Russian Embassy. It is scheduled for Wednesday. This version has been updated.
IN 1984, Congress voted to name a stretch of 16th Street immediately outside the then-Soviet Embassy “Andrei Sakharov Plaza,” in honor of the Soviet Union’s best-known dissident. The move infuriated Moscow, whose diplomats were confronted with Sakharov’s name every time they entered or left the building or received a piece of mail. But the tactic raised awareness of Sakharov’s courage and, according to his family, contributed to his release from internal exile two years later.
The D.C. Council is now to consider a new renaming that would be equally worthy. A measure sponsored by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Ward 3 member Mary M. Cheh (D) would name a block of Wisconsin Avenue, outside the current Russian Embassy compound, “Boris Nemtsov Plaza,” in honor of the opposition leader who was gunned down in February 2015. Nemtsov dedicated his life to the cause of Russian democracy and had a large public following, making him a prime target for the regime of Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin, which has never identified or held responsible those who ordered his murder, deserves a constant reminder of his case.
Nemtsov’s career flourished during the 1990s, when Russia experimented with democracy: He was elected to parliament and to the governorship of the Nizhny Novgorod region, then served as deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin. When Mr. Putin rose to power and began dismantling the country’s fragile new institutions, Nemtsov became a determined opponent. He persisted even after Mr. Putin consolidated power and eliminated fair elections, and after a series of Kremlin opponents were murdered. One of his final acts was to denounce Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Feb. 27, 2015, Nemtsov was walking across a heavily guarded bridge within steps of the Kremlin when he was felled by a hail of bullets. Authorities later arrested five men of Chechen origin; at least one was closely connected to the republic’s notoriously brutal ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov. This past June they were convicted of killing Nemtsov in exchange for a payment of $254,000 — but the sponsor of the hit was not identified. What is known is that Mr. Kadyrov, a fierce defender of Mr. Putin, was a target of an investigative report by Nemtsov — and that Mr. Putin awarded him a medal soon after the slaying.
Nemtsov’s followers, still seeking justice, regularly leave flowers and other memorials to him on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, where he was killed. Police quickly sweep them away. By naming the block in front of the embassy after him, the D.C. Council could create a memorial that is not so easily wiped away. “It’s an opportunity for us to reaffirm our support for democracy,” Mr. Mendelson told us.
It won’t be surprising if there is opposition from the Trump administration to the renaming, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday; a similar measure was blocked in Congress by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. That gives council members the opportunity to demonstrate that street names should be under their authority — and that they are less intimidated by Mr. Putin than are their counterparts on Capitol Hill.
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