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MOSCOW — Bitter disagreements between the United States and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine have spilled over into unexpected new terrain: what to call the address of the United States embassy in Moscow.
Russian authorities have renamed the street in front of the embassy after a separatist region that claims to be independent from Ukraine, “Donetsk People’s Republic Square”.
Like most countries in the world outside of Russia, the United States refuses to recognize the Donetsk “republic” and so far seems to refuse to use the new address.
The idea of renaming the venue surfaced in April, when Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced an online public vote that seemed intended to be purposefully provocative.
The big winner with 45% — and election fraud charges — was the square of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
When the new street signs were installed last month, Russian officials took advantage of the moment.
“I hope that the United States will not take too long to recognize the new republics,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a June press conference in which she welcomed the change. She added that Russians should feel free to write to the embassy at the new address – often.
In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized the independence of Donetsk and its neighbor, the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, before sending in Russian troops which he said were part of a “special military operation”. aimed at “liberating” the wider Donbass region. Ukraine.
This week, the United States unveiled some sort of workaround. The embassy website has quietly changed from contacts listed at coordinates: “55.75566°N, 37.58028°E.” At least a section of the siteas for him, kept the traditional address: Bolshoy Deviatinsky Pereulok n°8.
An embassy spokeswoman declined to comment on the change.
Yet Russian taxi driver Denis Usmanov — who has been ferrying passengers around Moscow for the past seven years — told NPR that Russia and the United States were missing a bigger point.
“It doesn’t matter what they call it,” Usmanov says in an interview with NPR. “The important thing is to get you where you need to go.”
Where the streets have new names
For Moscow, the changing nature of the streets and politics is not really new.
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 saw tsarist-era speeches abandoned in favor of those that honored communist leadership.
The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought the return of many historic names – in what the city’s Democratic elected officials saw as a small but important facet of ongoing change.
“Symbolically, we wanted to show the end of one period and the beginning of another,” says Sergei Stankevich, who served as the city’s deputy mayor in the early 1990s. in an interview.
The United States has its own renaming history when it comes to the Kremlin.
At the height of the Cold War, American officials renamed a section of land near the former Soviet Embassy Andrei Sakharov Plaza in honor of the famous Soviet dissident physicist.
More recently, the Washington, D.C. City Council changed the name of a square in front of the current Russian Embassy in honor of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov – a vocal opponent of President Vladimir Putin before Nemtsov’s murder in 2015.
Former deputy mayor Stankevich notes that it took Moscow residents a while to adjust to the street’s renaming – and it may be a while before Russians adopt the People’s Square as well from Donetsk.
“It’s just what we call today ‘trolling’,” Stankevich explains. “The Russian authorities are trying to make Americans psychologically uncomfortable. And I suspect that one day that will change again.”
But even if Russia has the last word for now, the United States can take comfort in the numbers.
This week, the mayor of Moscow announced another determined online vote that the British Embassy, just down the street, will now be located on the “People’s Republic Square of Lugansk”.