June 4, 2022
Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine has already sparked a push in many Western countries to cancel everything Russian, from Yuri Gagarin to Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Now, Ukraine’s president is asking US leaders to turn the anti-Russian frenzy up a notch.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the mayors of US cities to dump their sister-city ties with Russia, arguing that they’re useless, and that scrapping them now would help isolate Moscow.
“To stop them, we should not let tyrants exploit their connections with the free world. Any connections. You know that dozens of American cities preserve sister-city ties with Russian cities. Chicago and Moscow. Jacksonville and Murmansk. San Diego and Vladivostok. Albany and Tula. What do those ties give to you? Probably nothing, but they allow Russia to say that it is not isolated”, Zelensky said in a virtual address to attendees of the plenary session of the US Conference of Mayors in Reno, Nevada on Friday.
Accusing Russia of setting Ukrainian cities “on fire with its bombs, rockets and artillery”, Zelensky said many of the Russian military’s most advanced rockets are manufactured in Yekaterinburg, “which still by the way remains the sister city of San Jose”, and that Russia has troops in Ukraine from Khabarovsk, which is “still a sister city of Portland, Oregon. Why? I leave this question to you to answer”.
Zelensky also announced “an ambitious project of Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction”, and invited American cities, “your companies and your business entities to participate in the implementation of this project”.
The modern concept of “Sister Cities” has its roots in the Second World War, when the mayor and residents of the city of Coventry, England – which suffered heavy damage in Nazi German air raids, sent out warm wishes and donations to the people of Stalingrad during the war-deciding battle for the city in 1942. Coventry and Stalingrad formally established sister city ties in 1944, and others followed suit after the war. In the second part of the 20th century, the practice became a practical tool for encouraging tourism and trade, as well as diplomacy. Today, the US alone has more than 700 sister cities, 68 of them with Russia. Most of these links were forged in the late 1980s as the Cold War came to a close, when bright-eyed Soviet and US leaders looked forward with hope for improved relations – before NATO began its multi-decade eastward expansion toward Russia’s borders.
In March, US media reported that several major US cities, including Chicago, Dallas, and Des Moines, had already moved to suspend or even cut ties with their Russian counterparts, although some, including San Jose, Portland, Gainesville, and Jacksonville have decided to retain the connections.
In March, Leroy Allala, president of Sister Cities International, a Washington-based non-profit encouraging city-city ties, called on American members not to sever ties with Russia. “While suspending or ending a sister city relationship to register disapproval of a foreign government’s actions may seem, on the surface, like a positive policy protest action, it has the complete opposite effect – closing a vital and, ofttimes, last channel of communication with vulnerable or isolated populations”, Allala wrote.