(CNSNews.com) – Authorities in Moscow and Ankara are considering renaming streets where U.S. Embassies are located, evidently to embarrass the United States. Citing free speech, the State Department says that as long as they are complying with local laws “they can call it whatever they want.”
In the Moscow case, the proposal is a tit-for-tat response after the District of Columbia council last month unanimously agreed to rename a portion of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Russian Embassy for Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was assassinated in 2015.
A lawmaker from Russia’s ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has asked Moscow’s mayor to rename Bolshoy Devyatinsky lane, a small street alongside the U.S. diplomatic compound, Severoamerikansky Tupik – the Russian equivalent of “North American dead end” or “North American cul-de-sac.”
The city government is actively considering the matter, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
It quoted U.S. Embassy spokesperson Maria Olson as saying, “Anyone can talk about dead ends, but as U.S. diplomats we prefer to focus on finding a way forward toward a more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship.”
Meanwhile Ankara’s local authority is proposing that the name of a street in front of the U.S. Embassy in the Turkish capital be renamed “Olive Branch” – the name of Turkey’s controversial air and ground offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in southwestern Syria.
Turkey’s Islamist government is furious that the U.S. continues to back the Kurdish militia, whom it accuses of links to terrorists fighting the Turkish state.
“Do you have any objection to the Turks renaming the street on which our embassy is located to the name of the military operation that we wish that they were not doing?” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked at a press briefing Tuesday.
Nauert called both the Turkey and Russian proposals an “internal matter.”
“If a city decides it wants to rename a street something – especially in Turkey or Russia, where we support freedom of speech – they can call it whatever they want,” she said. “As long as it’s in accordance with their own law, we’re fine with that.”
Last month Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, responded to the DC decision to rename the street outside the Russian Embassy by saying it was the city’s prerogative to do so at a time when “relations between the two countries still leave much to be desired, mildly speaking.”
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, lawmaker, and leader of several opposition parties, was shot dead near the Kremlin less than two days before he planned to lead a public rally protesting Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
In a radio interview hours before he was killed, Nemtsov said there was documented evidence of the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, and said of Putin, “when power is concentrated in the hands of one person and this person is in charge forever, then everything will end in complete catastrophe.”
President Obama at the time called on the Russian government to “conduct a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his murder and ensure that those responsible for this vicious killing are brought to justice.”
Last year five Chechens were convicted of the killing, and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 11 to 20 years.
U.S. lawmakers upset China in 2016 by pushing to have a street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington named for the jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel peace prize winner, Liu Xiaobo.
A Communist Party-affiliated newspaper called the U.S. senators responsible, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), “vile characters.”
Liu, a writer who helped to draft a manifesto advocating peaceful political reform, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced in 2009 to 11 years’ imprisonment. He was diagnosed with liver cancer last May, granted “medical parole,” and died in July.
In the 1980s, a section of 16th Street N.W. in Washington, then home to the Soviet Embassy, was named for the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. The embassy later moved to its current location in Wisconsin Avenue (soon to be Boris Nemtsov Plaza), although the Russian ambassador’s residence still carries the Sakharov Plaza address.
Also in the 1980s, Iranian authorities renamed Churchill Boulevard in Tehran, location of the British Embassy, in honor of Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands, who died in prison in 1981.
According to published accounts the Brits solved the embarrassing problem by moving the mission’s main entrance to a parallel street, so that staff and visitors did not have to pass the “Bobby Sands Street” signs when approaching the complex.