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Nearly 100 U.S. cities and towns had sister cities in Russia before its attack on Ukraine, but now at least 10 have severed or suspended ties.

Letter to members from Sister Cities International president. (PDF)
Letter to members from Sister Cities International president. (PDF)

The severed cities are Moscow (by Chicago and Santa Clara County), Stravropol (Des Moines, Iowa), Leningrad Region (state of Maryland), Voronezh (Charlotte, North Carolina), Saratov (Dallas) and Krasnodar (Tallahassee, Florida).

Suspending ties are Colorado Springs (Smolensk), Sarasota, Florida (Vladimir) and Norfolk, Virginia (Kaliningrad).

According to a list of 97 locales supplied by Sister Cities International, eight California municipalities have Russian “town twins.” It showed none as cutting off relationships.

But the Palo Alto Weekly reported March 22 that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to end the county’s “sister county” relationship with the governments of the region of Moscow, nation of Russia and the city of Moscow.

Besides San Diego (with Vladivostok), the California cities with Russian siblings are Berkeley, Livermore, Long Beach, Los Altos, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Bernardino, San Jose and Santa Clara County.

Juneau, Alaska, and Tacoma, Washington, also made Vladivostok a sister city — in October 1991 and October 1992, respectively. San Diego was first — in September 1991.

“We are not aware of any ongoing visits with Russia during this time,” SCI representatives Busra Yilmaz and Lucas Bravos told Times of San Diego.

They noted that the co-chair of the San Jose Ekaterinburg Sister City Organization was able to make it out of Russia and was visiting San Jose and Silicon Valley.

San Jose Spotlight reported March 9 that the City Council voted unanimously to send a letter of peace and support to sister city Ekaterinburg, Russia, encouraging its residents to stand against President Putin.

San Jose wouldn’t cut Sister City ties.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who serves on the board of Sister Cities International, was quoted as saying: “I suspect during this time of conflict that many mayors and other elected officials in the country are trying to cover their own butt if you will.”

A sister city has been defined as a form of legal or social agreement between two geographically and politically distinct localities for the purpose of promoting cultural and commercial ties.

In a letter sent March 2, Leroy Allala, president of the Washington-based group, addressed “Fellow Citizen Diplomats.”

He wrote: “Witnessing the horrific events of the past week in Ukraine, leaders in our communities – instinctively and understandably – want to say something, to do something, and to act towards a collective disapproval of this assault on humankind; endeavoring to make a positive difference at this critical juncture in our global discourse.”

But suspending or ending a sister city relationship with a Russian partner should not be one such action, he said.

“We applaud those sister cities programs and citizens around the globe, including in Russia, who have voiced their support of an independent Ukraine and reaffirmed their belief in peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.”

Cutting ties may seem a positive policy protest action, Allala said, but he argued it has the complete opposite effect – “closing a vital and, ofttimes, last channel of communication with vulnerable or isolated populations.”

Only two U.S. locales have established sister-city ties with Moscow — Chicago and Santa Clara County in the Bay Area.

But the Palo Alto paper said county supervisors sought to draw a line between a repudiation of the Russian government, “which has a history of civil rights abuses against people and journalists, and the Russian people, they said.

“The county cut ties with the Russian and Moscow governments while still preserving The County of Santa Clara/Region of Moscow, Russia, Sister-County Commission, which facilitates cultural and educational exchanges with the people.”

The story added that Santa Clara County pays $2,280 annually to take part in the Sister Cities International program. San Diego pays the same, according to an SCI spokesman.

Updated at 3:36 p.m. May 13, 2022