Freeman: Boris Nemtsov Plaza
American democratic values are not fading.
On February 27, the section of Wisconsin Avenue directly in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington was renamed Boris Nemtsov Plaza, in a tribute to its namesake Russian opposition leader. The Associated Press has called the renaming “a D.C. sponsored effort to troll the Russian government.”
Exactly three years before, Boris Nemtsov, former Russian deputy prime minister and a charismatic figure in the country’s political opposition, was assassinated crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin. This occurred mere hours after he appealed to the public to support a march happening two days later against Russia’s war in Ukraine. After a short investigation by Russia’s main security agency, the F.S.B., five men were arrested. All arrests were connected to a man long distrusted by the F.S.B., Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov, the ruthless ruler of the Chechen Republic, an autonomous region in southern Russia, is granted more autonomy by Russian President Vladimir Putin than any other Russian regional leader — much to the dismay of the F.S.B. This overwhelming showcase of bias would have been enough to raise speculation on its own, but became even more suspicious when all confessions were retracted by the suspects on the grounds that they had been coerced with threats and torture. When the case was finally “solved,” a low-ranking officer — who had conveniently disappeared — was charged with the murder. The indictment gives no motive, points to no leads as to how he financed the operation and leaves unanswered questions. To this day, Nemtsov’s murder remains unaccounted for. This absence of satisfactory answers has led to a growing number of conspiracy theories, many of which point to Putin and his administration as the culprits.
Recently, many Americans have likely disapproved of their current administration’s camaraderie with Vladimir Putin. These sentiments were heightened after Trump’s congratulatory call to Putin regarding his electoral victory, although said victory was widely disputed; Putin faced little significant opposition, and there were even videos that emerged from Russia demonstrating possible election fraud. Most notably, Putin’s only legitimate opposition, Alexei Navalny, was detained shortly before the election and banned from running over a questionable conviction of embezzlement.
Not only did Trump congratulate Putin on this victory, but he also made no mention of the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s show of support to Putin’s triumphant election, and his reluctance to confront Putin on pressing issues, displays his willingness to work with Putin. More importantly, it could, for some, signal an admiration Trump has for the stronghold Putin maintains on his people. One Los Angeles Times column, fittingly titled “Is Trump turning the U.S. into Putin’s Russia?”, portrays these sentiments well. After analyzing the question of whether or not Trump is a strongman-in-the-making, the author concludes with many questions at hand: “Is there collaboration between Trump and the Russian oligarchs? Why haven’t we implemented sanctions against Russia? And what does the Kremlin want?” Unfortunately, this exemplifies what many U.S. citizens might be terrified of or believe is occurring.
No matter how much the current administration seems to support autocratic rule, one must simply look to the facts to realize that American democratic ideals cannot be easily suppressed. Public actions have recently showcased this, as evidenced by the decision made a few weeks ago by the U.S. to expel 60 Russian diplomats in solidarity with Great Britain. This act shows that the U.S. government still understands the injustice within state-sponsored acts of terror — in this case, the Russian state’s suspected killing of a former Russian spy in Salisbury earlier in March. However, the little things are just as important, such as the decision to rename the Russian embassy’s address to salute the late Boris Nemtsov. Accomplishing more than simply “trolling” the Russian government, this effort demonstrates to Russia and the global community that the U.S. will not forget the unjust acts that Putin and his government shrug off.
One need not worry about American ideals being stifled. Media outlets may seek to create popular, fear-invoking headlines about the similarities and respect President Trump appears to hold for Putin’s autocratic rule. Despite the possibility of these stories holding semblances of truth, American democratic principles nonetheless prevail. Boris Nemtsov Plaza, seated at the heart of our nation’s capital, is now one of many displays of this persistence. It is a permanent and public representation of American democracy, values and integrity.