U.S. and Russia Revive Cold-War Game of Provocative Street Names

Although five Chechen men were jailed for the crime, Mr. Nemtsov’s family and friends, some of whom lobbied for the street name, believe that the real mastermind has never been publicly identified. The change received a sympathetic response in Washington, especially after the Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential election.

Any change in Moscow still faces hurdles. Even if the commission recommends the name change, it will need the approval of city hall. The Kremlin is likely to have a say, and given its desire to improve relations with the United States, it might well scrap the idea.

The chance that the city might consider a change, however, unleashed a tsunami of alternative suggestions and commentary on social media sites.

U.S. and Russia Revive Cold-War Game of Provocative Street Names
U.S. and Russia Revive Cold-War Game of Provocative Street Names

They included a slew of streets and alleys named after foreign leaders who have clashed with the United States: the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un; Fidel Castro of Cuba; and Arab leaders whom the Russians consider to have been murdered under the auspices of the United States, like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Colin Powell’s Tube was an odd street name inspired by the infamous United Nations speech the former secretary of state gave in 2003 to validate the American invasion of Iraq, in which he presented pictures of tubes in the desert that were said to be evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also mentioned.


The Russian Embassy in Washington, where the road outside has been renamed in honor of Mr. Nemtsov, the murdered opposition politician.Credit Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency

Like many such games, this one appears to be another wrinkle that has returned from the grave of the Cold War as diplomatic relations have suffered.

In the 1980s, United States congressional leaders renamed the area in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington “Sakharov Plaza,” to protest the detention of Andrei D. Sakharov, the famed Russian dissident, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and nuclear physicist.

Such moves are not limited to Russia, either.

Congress proposed renaming the street on which the Chinese Embassy sits in honor of Liu Xiaobo, the dissident and Nobel laureate who died last year. Beijing called that effort “a political farce.” In 2014, Chinese commentators retaliated by suggesting renaming the street in front of the American Embassy in Beijing “Snowden Street” for Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret documents detailing the United States’ mass surveillance programs, or “Osama bin Laden Road.” Neither capital acted on the suggestions.

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Nor is the practice limited to major powers. On Monday, the mayor of Ankara, the Turkish capital, approved renaming a street outside the United States Embassy “Olive Branch,” after Turkey’s continuing military campaign in Syria. The United States and Turkey have found themselves awkwardly on opposite sides of the fighting in Syria, because of the American military’s support for a Kurdish militia. The proposal is expected to be approved just days before Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is expected in Ankara on Thursday.

Previously, the Islamic Republic of Iran famously stripped the name of Winston Churchill from the street outside the British Embassy in Tehran and renamed it after Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army who died in prison on hunger strike.

Last year, the Iranians also named the street where the Saudi Arabian Embassy sits after Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a clerical leader from the Shiite Muslim minority who was executed in the kingdom.

During the Vietnam War, India once changed the name of the street outside an American diplomatic mission to honor Ho Chi Minh.

In Moscow, when the street in Washington was renamed for Mr. Nemtsov, the journalist Oleg Kashin suggested that it was telling that Russians would consider the Americans’ action a slur.

The announcement about “1 North American Dead End” also provoked criticism from opposition members and others who suggested that the name game was at best childish.

Dmitri G. Gudkov, a former member of Parliament, noted that the city had brushed aside requests for a memorial to Mr. Nemtsov but jumped at the chance to change the street name near the American Embassy.

“The tribute to the memory of the Russian politician in Washington is perceived as a rebuke in Moscow,” Mr. Gudkov wrote on Facebook. “Our government is ashamed, and so they take revenge in a petty way.”

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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