Houston Mayor Turner Sylvester on Friday suspended the city’s partnership agreement with Moscow and its sister city relationship with Tyumen, Russia, on the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.
Turner said that while he believes in the value of city diplomacy in times of crisis, Russia’s decision to censor the media and crack down on anti-war protesters has made it impossible to maintain city-to-city relationships.
“In challenging times, city to city, and people to people, diplomacy can sometimes be the only opportunities for exchange,” the mayor said. “This is the purpose of Houston’s more than 90 foreign consulates, including those from Ukraine and Russia and of our 19 sister cities – to create and maintain opportunities for global dialogue.”
Since Russian launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, at least 8,000 civilians have been confirmed killed, including 487 children, with the actual numbers likely to be substantially higher, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 14 million people have also been displaced from their homes as the humanitarian crisis widens, further straining diplomatic ties with Russia.
“Russia has blocked the people’s access to social media and global news outlets, cracked down on protests and any form of discontent, and criminalized public opposition to the war,” the mayor said. “It is clear that we have lost the ability to have an open dialogue.”
Meanwhile, HTX4UKRAINE, a local nonprofit that raises money and that advocates for Ukraine’s cause, organized a rally Friday afternoon in front of the Russian Consulate in Houston to commemorate the war’s one-year anniversary.
My first reaction on reading this headline was “wait, we’re just doing this now?” Having read the story I get the rationale, and I understand wanting to maintain a diplomatic relationship even in times of war, but it’s still a little weird. I also had no idea this relationship existed. I knew we had a few “sister city” partnerships, though I couldn’t have said much about what that means beyond some fumbling about exchanging culture and stuff like that. I knew we had a few such relationships, with the one with Chiba, Japan, being the one that stuck most prominently in my mind, but again couldn’t have told you much beyond that. The list of Houston’s sister cities, which includes a brief overview of what that means, is here, though now that will need to be amended. I wonder if we will keep them there but consider them to be in a timeout, or if we will fully cut ties and go looking for a new sister to replace them. Maybe that will be a question for the Mayor’s race. Anyway, now you know.