In 1997, I traveled to Moscow with a bipartisan group of House members to talk with Russian leaders. We discussed a number of topics – missile defense, private property rights, even mortgages for Russian people. One of our delegation’s delightful experiences was a meeting with Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Nemtsov. At age 37, he was well-spoken, engaging, and charismatic. I left the meeting feeling hopeful. Could this be the new face of Russian leadership? A leadership that could help Russia be a proud member of the community of nations? A leadership that could lead to a better, freer life for his countrymen? Sadly, that was not to be.
As Vladimir Putin came to power, and began to tighten his grip on the Russian people, Boris Nemtsov realized that his country was headed back in the direction of its dark past. He spoke out consistently and forcefully. Eventually, he was shot in the back within sight of the Kremlin.
During Boris’ years of courageous opposition, I was honored to have him as a frequent visitor in my office. He always talked about his hope for the future of Russia and her people.
Today marks a tragic anniversary when many of us lost a friend. But, despite our sadness, today also offers a moment for reflection and for hope.
We stand on the world’s first official memorial to Boris Nemtsov, on what is now formally known as Boris Nemtsov Plaza. And, it is fitting, that this memorial be here in Washington. It reminds us that, despite the current tensions between our governments, Americans and Russians are, and should remain, neighbors – even friends.
Today, we gather to commemorate the heroic virtue of the Russian people as exemplified in the life of Boris Nemtsov. He was a scientist, an activist, a statesman. He was a son, a father, and a patriot.
Boris stood by his countrymen in promising times and in times when that promise was obscured by cynicism, corruption, and war. When many of his contemporaries traded their democratic aspirations for fortunes made off the chaotic privatization of Russia’s industry and natural resources, he took the high road. Boris spent what would be the last decade of his life fighting against despotism and for freedom and the rule of law.
Here on this public square—on Nemtsov Plaza—we share an abiding hope that one day soon, the people of Russia will also be able to gather on public squares across their great and vast country. We hope that they will be able to speak and to assemble without fear of police raids, of tear gas, or of an assassin’s bullet. Our fervent hope is that a new generation of young Boris Nemtsovs – some of them perhaps listening and watching us today – will be inspired to see his unfulfilled dream come true.
Listen to the full audio of the speech.