The assassination of Boris Nemtsov, a renowned physicist and leader of Russia’s political opposition, on a bridge outside of the Kremlin in February 2015, was widely seen as a watershed moment in Russian politics. Yesterday, the Kiev city council passed a resolution to rename the street housing the Russian Embassy in Ukraine’s capital after Nemtsov.
Nemtsov had come to power in the ’90s as an energetic young governor before becoming a favorite of Boris Yeltsin and was once seen as a possible heir to the Russian presidency. In the end, though, he was passed over by Yeltsin as a successor for the leadership of the Russian state in favor of Vladimir Putin. He would rebound from that loss to become the unlikely de facto leader of the organized opposition and to emerge as an indefatigable critic of the Putin regime. Observers of Russian politics view Nemtsov’s killing as the event that symbolically broke an unspoken compact that had previously kept high-ranking members of the Russian government immune from political violence. With Nemtsov out of the picture, there was no other obvious candidate who could unite Russia’s opposition. His killing stands as a testament to the Russian state’s brutality towards perceived internal threats,
With the newly named Nemtsov street, Kiev will become the third city after Washington, D.C. and the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where Russian diplomats will have to come to work to on a street named after the slain politician. The vote was the culmination of a 13-month-long campaign, which passed through numerous bureaucratic obstacles. Sixty-nine Kiev city councilmen voted in favor, 18 abstained and none voted against the resolution to rename the square after Nemtsov.
Nemtsov was a passionate supporter of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution and so it is appropriate that his memory be honored in Kiev. At the same time, Moscow city authorities have continually prohibited any sort of public memorial to him in the Russian capital. Members of the Russian opposition bring flowers to the spot where Nemtsov was killed, only to have them bulldozed away on a weekly basis.
The campaign to honor Nemtsov’s name was led by a coalition of Russian dissidents living in Kiev, along with numerous Ukrainian civil society activists. Free Russia House Kiev, (full disclosure: I am a member of the organization’s advisory board), an organization devoted to a Putin-free Russia, which serves as an “alternative” consul for Russian liberals, was one of the organizations that initiated the resolution.
“Nemtsov was a unique figure, not just in Russian politics, but for Ukraine as well,” explained Greg Frolov, head of Free Russia House Kiev. “He spent a large portion of his life not only fighting for Russian liberal democracy but also for Ukrainian independence, and he was killed at a moment while he was severely criticizing Putin’s intervention in Ukraine, and while he was also crucially preparing a ‘Putin’s War Report’ detailing the evidence of Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.”
For more about Nemtsov, read Tablet’s obituary published in March 2015, shortly after he was murdered: “Boris Nemtsov, Murdered in the Shadow of the Kremlin.”