Mike Madrid: It’s Time to End Our Sister City Relationships With Russia

GrassrootsLab’s Mike Madrid published an important op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this week urging U.S. mayors to abandon sister city status with Russia. Madrid recently met with experts in Kyiv and Lviv who assured him that Russia will not retreat from Ukraine as long as it has strong support among the Russian people. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself urged American mayors to cut ties with Russian cities at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Reno.

“Please don’t let those who became murderers call your cities their sister cities,” he said.

In his op-ed – which you can read in full here – Madrid wrote:

Renouncing a sister city relationship would show solidarity with the global fight against authoritarian threats. The U.S. government has already taken unprecedented action in the form of economic sanctions against Russia, the freezing of its currency reserve assets and the transfer of weapons to Ukraine’s military. The state of California is working to pull investments, including those of the largest pension fund (CalPERS), from Russian firms. Local governments should seize this opportunity to show their full support.

Fewer than a dozen California cities have formalized sister city relationships with Russian cities — but among them are some of the largest and most influential in the state, including Los Angeles (St. Petersburg), Long Beach (Sochi) and San Diego (Vladivostok). These cities should heed Zelensky’s call and renounce their sister city relationships with their Russian counterparts.

Like the new world Eisenhower faced, the current global conflict requires a new approach. We are not in a cold war and the solutions that worked then will not work now. Europe is in a land war for the first time since World War II. In the face of Russian aggression, rape, torture and executions as well as the senseless destruction of towns and cities, hospitals, schools and houses of worship, this moment calls for moral clarity.

American mayors can play a substantive role — as they did during the Cold War — by using their position as citizen diplomats to declare to the Russian public that the atrocities inflicted by their national government cannot coexist with business-as-usual relationships at any level.

The mutual exchange of ideas, culture and information among cities should always be the goal of diplomatic efforts. But to continue those relationships as we witness genocide and war crimes is tantamount to providing support. 

Aside from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Long Beach, at least seven California localities have sister city relationships with Russia. These include Berkeley, Livermore, Los Altos, Oakland, San Bernardino, San Jose, and Santa Clara County.