After Gov. Inslee called upon state agencies to cut ties with Russia last month, Washington cities must now decide if they will also cut ties with their Russian sister cities, an action that has fallen in a grey area for many cities across the nation.
In his February 28 press conference, Gov. Inslee requested that “all of our state agencies to do an inventory to identify any commercial or other connections with Russian state institutions or significant Russian companies with an eye towards terminating them or canceling them and not letting them go forward.”
State legislators also introduced a bill that would terminate contracts with any entity based in Russia to divert public funding to Russian entities.
But sister cities remain a grey area, as no public funding is used to support the cities. So far, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Dallas, Texas; and Chicago, Ill., have all cut ties with their Russian sister cities to condemn Russian aggression and show support for Ukraine. Many others are still deliberating.
So far, Gov. Inslee has left Washington cities to determine whether or not they will terminate their Russian sister city relationships.
“We would not have a stance on sister city relationships,” Mike Faulk, Deputy Communications Director for the Office of Governor, told the Lynnwood Times. “These kinds of relationships are about promoting goodwill between people. It’s unlikely those kinds of partnerships would be benefitting the state or oligarchy,” he added.
Washington cities and Russia Sister City relationships
Sister Cities International, the organization that has connected 1,800 cities across 138 countries, recently released a letter “to citizen diplomats” requesting sister city relationships with Russian cities not be severed as a symbol of support for Ukraine.
“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,” the letter said.
In fact, many Washington cities have maintained sister city relationships with countries under other authoritarian regimes, including several in China and two in Uzbekistan. The sister cities in these countries are viewed as a way of understanding, influencing, and communicating with citizens in authoritarian nations, but now sister cities in Russia alone are in question.
Right now, multiple Washington cities have Russian sister city relationships, including Everett, Anacortes, Bellingham, Tacoma, and La Conner. So far, none have explicitly cut ties with their Russian sister cities.
Everett, which was formerly paired with Sovetskaya Gavan, Russia, has allowed the sister city relationship to dissolve over time with no plans to renew the contract.
“We have not had communication with the city since 2013,” Communications Director Julio Cortes told the Lynnwood Times. The city will be updating its sister city webpage and its official Wikipedia page to reflect that change.
Anacortes, on the other hand, recently voted to keep ties with its sister city Lomonosov, Russia, while simultaneously voting to remove the Russian flag from its sister city flag display.
“Flying the Russian flag that is currently on the tanks that are attacking people, unprovoked – I would advocate for taking the flags off city displays currently,” one Anacortes council member said in a city council meeting.
“The Russian flag, I suppose, is the flag of the Russian people, but it is also the flag of the state of Russia,” another council member said, sitting in front of the flag display. “And so it does, in fact, upset me to be sitting in this chair right now.”
“This inspired idea of sister cities that was created by President Eisenhower after World War II was very much based on the idea that if we made friends with people in foreign countries, we would be less inclined to engage in the sorts of things that are happening in Russia, and I believe very much in that notion,” Bellingham’s Mayor Seth Fleetwood said in a February 28 city council meeting.
“The people in our sister city in Russia are our friends, and that’s the people of Russia. Our beef of course is with the dictator in Russia. I will be making no efforts to sever ties,” he said.
Tacoma’s Mayor Victoria Woodards expressed a similar sentiment, explaining that the city’s relationships with Vladivostok, Russia, and Brovary, Ukraine, have been beneficial experiences for the city.
“The sister city committees have always underscored how fortunate we are to have had warm city-to-city relationships with the people of both Brovary, Ukraine, and Vladivostok, Russia,” Mayor Woodards said. “Tacoma is and will continue to be a deeply compassionate city, as we reflected upon the fact that when countries go to war it is the people who suffer. What people want is peace.”
The La Conner city council is the only Washington city that has yet to decide whether it will cut ties with its sister city, Olga, Russia.