Berkeley suspends relationship with Russian sister cities

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Jonathan Hale/Staff
In solidarity with Ukraine, Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to suspend Berkeley's ties with Russian sister cities until Russia ceases violence against the country.

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Berkeley City Council voted to suspend the city’s ties with its Russian sister cities until Russian hostilities against Ukraine cease, as first reported by The Mercury News.

The decision to formally suspend relationships between Berkeley and its Russian sister cities was scheduled for Tuesday’s city council meeting. According to Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Mayor Jesse Arreguín, many U.S. cities are considering or have already cut ties with their Russian sister cities, coinciding with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request at the United States Conference of Mayors earlier this month.

“It is our hope that by taking this action we can raise awareness of the ongoing atrocities being committed by Russia in their unjustified war against Ukraine,” Elgstrand said in an email.

According to Elgstrand, Berkeley’s relationships with the Russian cities Dmitrov and Ulan-Ude were established in 1991 and 1992, respectively. However, he added that relationships with the cities had been inactive, and there had been no formal communication with them since the early 1990s. Therefore, suspending Berkeley’s relationships with its Russian sister cities would be “largely a symbolic move,” Elgstrand said.

David Bowker, chair of international litigation practice at the law firm WilmerHale, said the suspension would likely not affect Russia as a country, but the decision could still have value.  

“It’ll also be a valuable communication to these Russian cities and their citizens that Berkeley is unhappy with what’s happening in Ukraine,” Bowker said. “Maybe it’s something for Russian citizens to think about, and something for them to contemplate in their relationship with their own government.”

According to Bowker, the sister-cities program became popular in the United States under President Dwight Eisenhower. The program’s original purpose was to promote peace by having Americans interact directly with people in other countries as opposed to only governments interacting with each other, he said.

The proposal to suspend the sister-city relationships could bring more attention to sister cities as a whole, Bowker said. However, he noted it would be counterproductive to end the sister-city relationships entirely.

“It would be unfortunate to terminate the programs because the whole purpose is to facilitate communication and promote peace,” Bowker said. “It would be ironic if war became the excuse to stop promoting peace.”

Contact Tiffany Lieu at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyplieu.