After getting blasted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week for maintaining ties with a Russian city that manufactures war rockets, a San Jose City Council member wants the city to reconsider its stance.
But Mayor Sam Liccardo said he has no second thoughts.
“I don’t work for Mr. Zelenskyy,” Liccardo said when asked whether the city should revisit its previous position. He then pointed to a statement in which he said the council’s “anger must be directed against the Russian government, and not against the Russian people.”
During a Friday address at the annual US Conference of Mayors, Zelenskyy called out San Jose, Chicago, Portland, San Diego and Jacksonville for not ending their sister city-relationships, arguing that “we should not let tyrants exploit their connections with the free world — any connections.”
He was particularly critical of San Jose’s relationship with Ekaterinburg, the fourth largest city in Russia and one where he said “some of the deadliest Russian rockets are made and manufactured.”
“What do those ties give to you?” Zelenskyy told the mayors. “Probably nothing. But they allow Russia to say that it is not isolated even after the start of its war.” Ukrainian cities and civilians have been subject to constant bombings by the Russians since the war started in late February.
Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said she intends to reintroduce a proposal she made in March to end San Jose’s relationship with Ekaterinburg. Arenas ended up voting against her own proposal her back then when she realized the council wanted to maintain ties.
The San Jose City Council voted unanimously against severing the relationship and instead opted to send a letter to Ekaterinburg imploring peace and showing support for those who chose to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
San Jose was just one of several Bay Area governments that debated whether to cut ties with Russia this year. Santa Clara County cut ties with its sister city, Moscow, in late March, while Livermore took the route San Jose did and sent a letter to its sister city of Snezhinsk.
In an interview, Arenas acknowledged she voted against her proposal last time because the majority of the council was against it.
“I agreed to the letter because there was no other option,” she said of her decision.
But Zelenskyy’s remarks Friday seemingly changed the perspective of the East San Jose councilmember.
“I think we need to heed the direction of those leaders as they know their country the best and that their concerns about what we’re doing is contributing to Russia not feeling the isolation,” Arenas said.
The course of the war has also changed from when San Jose first voted on the issue back then, she added.
In May, a New York Times investigation revealed that Russian paratroopers had executed at least eight Ukrainian men at gunpoint two months earlier in Bucha, a suburb of the capital Kyiv.
And on May 30, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said it had documented more than 14,000 war crimes in the country and identified more than 600 Russian suspects.
Although Liccardo doesn’t agree with Arenas’ effort to reexamine the sister-city relationship, the mayor’s statement said he’s reached out to senior White House staff and plans to work with them in identifying a city in Ukraine that San Jose can form a sister- city relationship with.
“In the final calculus, peace will likely only come to the region with regime change in Russia, which requires doing all that we can — including citizen diplomacy — to encourage Russian citizens to stand up for peace.” he added. “That requires that we keep lines of communication open.”
Sister city relationships are set up to promote the exchange of cultural ideas across the world. San Jose has a number of sister cities including Okayama, Japan, Dublin, Ireland and San José, Costa Rica.