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US Bill Would Honor Murdered Russian Dissident at Moscow's Embassy

  • Rafael Saakov

FILE - Russian embassy sits on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has introduced legislation to rename the area in front of the Russian embassy in Washington "Boris Nemtsov Plaza," after the Russian opposition leader who was murdered in Moscow two years ago.

Rubio's proposed bill would rename a broad stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, the main entrance to the large embassy complex in northwest Washington, to "help raise awareness among the American people about the ongoing abuses" in Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

"The creation of 'Boris Nemtsov Plaza' would permanently remind Putin's regime and the Russian people that these dissidents' voices live on, and that defenders of liberty will not be silenced," Rubio said in a statement.

FILE - Florida Senator Marco Rubio spoke to Republican National Convention delegates via video in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Ali Shaker / VOA )
FILE - Florida Senator Marco Rubio spoke to Republican National Convention delegates via video in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Ali Shaker / VOA )

"Whether it is looking at a street sign or [at] thousands of pieces of correspondence addressed '1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza,' it will be abundantly clear to the Kremlin that the intimidation and murder of opposition figures does not go unnoticed," Rubio added. "In honor of Nemtsov's memory and all Russians fighting for their democratic rights, I will continue working to ensure that those responsible for his murder are held accountable."

Rubio, a Republican who made an unsuccessful bid for his party's presidential nomination, issued his statement Monday.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, another prominent figure in the Russian opposition movement, also played a role in Rubio's initiative. In 2015, Kara-Murza was hospitalized after becoming critically ill, and he and others believe his illness was the result of poisoning. He was hospitalized again with the same symptoms this month, but has regained his health.

FILE - Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, Russian opposition activist poses for a photo in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 29, 2016.
FILE - Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, Russian opposition activist poses for a photo in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 29, 2016.

Kara-Murza thanked Rubio via Facebook this week for the initiative to rename the avenue in front of the embassy — and the Russian compound's official address — in Nemtsov's honor.

"This initiative has a precedent: In 1984, it was precisely such a Senate resolution that renamed the square in front of the then-USSR Embassy in Washington Andrei Sakharov Plaza," Kara-Murza wrote.

Sakharov, perhaps the best-known dissident in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and '80s, was condemned to internal exile in Gorky, then a closed city, in December 1979; that triggered an international outburst that culminated in the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 by the United States and dozens of other nations, a low point in the Cold War between Russia and the West.

FILE - People march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, portrait at right, in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 26, 2017. Thousands of Russians take to the streets of downtown Moscow to mark two years since Nemtsov was gunned down outside the Kremlin.
FILE - People march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, portrait at right, in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 26, 2017. Thousands of Russians take to the streets of downtown Moscow to mark two years since Nemtsov was gunned down outside the Kremlin.

"Needless to say, the Soviet Foreign Ministry was furious" when the street outside its embassy was renamed in 1984. However, he noted, "the authorities of the new [post-Soviet] Russia put up a bust of Sakharov in the Embassy building." The former Soviet embassy, on 16th Street in northwest Washington, a 10-minute walk from the White House, became the Russian ambassador's when the much larger embassy complex was erected in its present commanding location, near a high point overlooking most of the U.S. capital.

On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft visited the spot on Moscow's Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge where Nemtsov was shot to death on Feb. 27, 2015, and laid a wreath in memory of the slain opposition leader.

"We call once more on the Russian government to ensure that those responsible for Boris Nemtsov's killing are brought to justice," Tefft said in a statement.

Gatherings in memory of Nemtsov were held Sunday in several U.S. cities, including Washington, New York and San Francisco.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Russian Service.

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