DC lawmakers want to rename part of street outside of Russian Embassy after anti-Putin dissident

The D.C. Council is considering a proposal to rename part of a Northwest D.C. street outside of the Russian embassy for a Russian opposition leader murdered two years ago.

Council chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who represents the neighborhood where the proposed name change would take place, are seeking to rename a one-block section of Wisconsin Avenue between Davis Street and Edmunds Street to Boris Nemtsov Place.

Nemtsov was a longtime opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was mysteriously murdered in Moscow two years ago.

Mendelson said Nemtsov was voice of freedom that was silenced and renaming Wisconsin Avenue after him would send a loud message to the Putin about American values.

"The citizens of Washington D.C. support Democratic principles and we believe it is important that people of all political persuasions can speak out, and Boris Nemtsov was somebody who was very active in speaking out and it would appear paid the price," Mendelson said.

Nemtsov was vocal of Putin's rule since he first came to power in back 1999. After years of speaking out against Putin's administration, Nemtsov was shot to death on a Moscow bridge in 2015. Ever since, there have been questions if Putin was involved in dissident's death to silence him.

While this one block section of Wisconsin Avenue would become Boris Nemtsov Plaza, no actual mailing addresses would change under this proposal. The street signs would have new signs added to the top of them.

While many residents said they sympathize with the motivation of this idea, the majority told FOX 5 they are not sold on the idea of changing the name.

"I don't see any point to it," said one woman. "I like it as Wisconsin Avenue."

"It's only a couple of blocks and it's right in front of the Russian Embassy and it seems the right place to make a statement, so sure," said another resident.

During the 1980s, then-President Ronald Reagan renamed a section of 16th Street in Northwest D.C. in front of another Russian embassy building for dissident Andrew Sakharov, who opposed the Soviet Union.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a similar measure in Congress and has reached out to D.C. Council in support of this proposal as well as Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)

There will be a hearing on this on Dec. 8.

The press secretary of the Russian Embassy said in part in a statement, "The Embassy does not comment on U.S. domestic topics." It also added, "We hope that the proposals to rename the streets in Washington, DC are not connected with another political campaign in the United States and with self-promotion of certain politicians."

The embassy also referred FOX 5 to a message of condolences from Putin to Nemtsov's mother that reads in part, "Please accept my deepest condolences in connection with this irreparable loss. I sincerely share your sorrow. Boris Nemtsov has left his mark in the history of Russia, in its political and public life. He occupied significant posts in a difficult time of transition in this country. He always openly and honestly voiced and upheld his views. We will do everything to ensure that the perpetrators of this foul and cynical crime and those who stand behind them are properly punished."