San Jose mayor snubs Ukraine leader’s request to cut ties with Russian city

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a news conference in a Kyiv subway station April 23.
(Efrem Lukatsky / Associated Press)

After getting blasted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 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 San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he has no second thoughts.

“I don’t work for Mr. Zelensky,‘’ 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 an address Friday at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, Zelensky called out San Jose, San Diego, Chicago, Portland, Ore., and Jacksonville, Fla., 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?” Zelensky asked the mayors. “Probably nothing. But they allow Russia to say that it is not isolated even after the start of its war.”

The British launchers can strike targets 50 miles away, which Ukraine needs in its effort to ward off a complete Russian takeover of the Donbas.

Ukrainian cities and civilians have been subject to constant bombardment by the Russians since the war started in late February.

Sylvia Arenas, a member of the San Jose City Council, said she intends to re-introduce a proposal she made in March to end San Jose’s relationship with Ekaterinburg. Arenas ended up voting against her own proposal back then when she realized that the council wanted to maintain ties.

The council voted unanimously against severing the relationship and instead opted to send a letter to Ekaterinburg urging 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 same route as San Jose and sent a letter to its sister city of Snezhinsk.

U.S. intelligence agencies have begun a review of how they judge the will and ability of foreign governments to fight.

In an interview, Arenas acknowledged that 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 Zelensky’s remarks Friday seemingly changed her perspective.

“I think we need to heed the direction of those leaders as they know their country the best,” Arenas said, citing Zelensky’s concern that “what we’re doing is contributing to Russia not feeling the isolation.”

Numbers help tell the tale of the death, destruction and economic havoc caused by Europe’s worst armed conflict in decades.

The course of the war has also changed from when San Jose first voted on the issue, she added.

Although Liccardo doesn’t agree with Arenas’ effort to re-examine 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,” Liccardo said. “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 Dublin and San José, the capital of Costa Rica.