- March 29, 2022
After a lengthy and emotional discussion in their regular Monday meeting, city commissioners voted to suspend Sarasota’s sister city relationship with Vladimir, Russia in response to the ongoing invasion and war with Ukraine.
Commissioner Hagen Brody introduced the topic with a desire to terminate the relationship entirely. He said he has been hesitant about the relationship with Vladimir for a long time and the attack on Ukraine clearly crossed a line.
“This isn’t a war, this is a slaughter,” Brody said. “You see the murder of civilians and the bombing of apartment complexes. … I believe it’s going to be a long and bloody couple of years for Ukranian civilians.”
“I think it’s our moral imperative to do this,” Brody continued. “I think in some small way it’s a message to folks here and overseas that we’re doing what we can to be in line with the international community’s response.”
Vladimir, a city of 345,000 people located east of Moscow, is the home of the 27th Guards Red Banner Rocket Army, one of three rocket armies in Russia. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are housed in Vladimir, from which Brody said Sarasota should isolate itself.
Commissioner Kyle Battie was initially in complete agreement with Brody and desired to terminate the sister city relationship with Vladimir. He called the Russian attack on Ukraine “flat-out egregious” and a “slight on humanity.''
“I sit here as an African-American man and know there are issues going on for people of color, in that being let across the borders,” Battie said. “They’re being discriminated against during this war time. That’s egregious in itself and would be irresponsible of me not to speak on.”
In addition to the yellow and blue lighting of the Ringling Bridge which was approved on Monday, total isolation from Vladimir was the best way for Sarasota to support Ukraine, according to Brody. But several public speakers expressed that another option may be more beneficial.
Justin Kloer, a Sarasota resident who wished to maintain the sister city relationship, said his family is from Ukraine and came to Sarasota to celebrate the birth of a grandchild. Rather than having a celebration, his family has started the refugee process.
“Their hometown is currently ablaze. We don’t know if their home is still standing,” Kloer said. “We have cousins who we have lost contact with. As much as we want this war to end, we implore you to keep the dialogue open with Vladimir, Russia.”
“We know that peace comes from understanding, which comes from dialogue,” Kloer said. “Future residents can use this as precedent for diplomacy. This is also a weapon against Putin because there’s only one voice in Russia.”
Kloer, along with several others who spoke during the public hearing, saw the sister city relationship with Vladimir as an opportunity to counter Russian propaganda and information control. There was no clear answer on whether Sarasota has any direct contact with Vladimir currently, though.
Miriam Kramer spoke on behalf of the Sister Cities Association of Sarasota on Monday. She said she has friends in Vladimir, has seen the value in sister city projects and has seen the people of Vladimir as “pro-peace” over the last 28 years of the relationship.
“You’ve probably seen the courageous Russians protesting the war at the risk of going to jail,” Kramer said. “I have a friend in Vladimir that went to prison for starting a sister cities program there before the Soviet Union dissolved. They love the United States and its culture. To punish the people that have sacrificed so much would be awful, we’ve worked on these bonds for years.”
After the public hearing segment of the meeting, Battie was less intent on terminating the sister city relationship. He said that Sarasota should act swiftly and firmly, but should not cause any “ripple effect” that could negatively impact the people of Ukraine.
Commissioners discussed the legality of suspending the relationship rather than terminating it. According to sister city policy, there has not been language created to describe how to suspend a relationship and what it would entail.
“At this moment, how can we terminate this relationship without knowing what that means,” asked commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch. “If this organization still has ties and can communicate with Russia there is value in that. If not, maybe that means something different."
A motion by Brody died as it did not received a second from another commissioner. While the process appeared unclear, another motion was made and passed to suspend the relationship. Mayor Erik Arroyo said he would soon write a letter explaining the suspension.