The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to end the county's "sister county" relationship with the governments of the region of Moscow, nation of Russia and the city of Moscow. The action is a condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, given its brutality against Ukrainian civilians, county leaders said in a statement.
The supervisors sought to draw a line between a repudiation of the Russian government, which has a history of civil rights abuses against people and journalists, and the Russian people, they said. The county cut ties with the Russian and Moscow governments while still preserving The County of Santa Clara/Region of Moscow, Russia, Sister-County Commission, which facilitates cultural and educational exchanges with the people.
The commission was created to advise the Board of Supervisors in promoting, aiding and encouraging commerce, cultural, educational and technological exchange with the Region of Moscow government — known as the Moscow Oblast — a political subdivision of the Russian Federation.
Santa Clara County has had a sister county relationship with Moscow since 1994. The relationship expanded in 2004 to incorporate the city of Moscow government. In 27 years, the commission has fostered exchanges of information with nongovernmental organizations in Russia regarding social issues, provided sponsorship of Russian arts in Santa Clara County, established an program to foster shared learning among Russian and American students, and secured Open World grants to host delegations on preventing domestic violence, promoting inclusive education, and other topics of common interest.
The ordinance will be scheduled for formal adoption on April 5.
Supervisor Joe Simitian said that if the county's ordinance causes the Sister Cities International program, of which the county is a member, to withhold grants from the Sister-County Commission, the county will make that sacrifice in order to give a strong message to the Russian governmental institutions. Simitian noted the termination of the sister county relationship is largely symbolic but that symbols can be important.
Supervisor Cindy Chavez agreed. "What we are saying is that our government can't work with you until your government is treating humanity with the kind of dignity and respect that we all deserve."
County Executive Jeff Smith said the county staff could look for funding of projects it deems important to benefit the people of Moscow, the sister county and city in Russia.
During Tuesday's board meeting Chavez asked county staff to explore establishing a relationship with an appropriate jurisdiction in Ukraine.
"We ought to be thinking about how we can create and extend a partnership in a more formal way with Ukraine," she said.
Supervisor Otto Lee, a combat war veteran and the board liaison to the sister county commission, said he is well aware of the pain of wars and the loss of friends. He asked the supervisors to be mindful of language that would deepen divides between people.
It's people in Moscow with whom they have a relationship, as opposed to the government, and the people will be the ones to affect change, he said.
"At the end of the day, it is the people working together," Lee said.
Vice President Susan Ellenberg said while she appreciated Lee's sensitivity, she wanted to vote on the termination on Tuesday rather than sending the ordinance back to staff to soften the language.
"It's important to speak out today about the really irresponsible behavior" of the Russian government, which has cost countless lives and caused suffering, she said.
The ordinance doesn't have a fiscal impact on the county's general fund. The county pays $2,280 annually to participate in the Sister Cities International program and would continue to do so to allow its sister county relationships with Florence, Italy and Hsinchu County, Taiwan, Republic of China to continue to be recognized.