CITY HALL — Over mild objections, a City Council committee Tuesday moved to cut Sister City ties with Moscow over Russia's invasion and annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine.
The Human Relations Committee passed resolutions calling for the city to suspend its Sister City relationship with the Russian capital and stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. They now go before the full City Council next week.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), one of the lead sponsors of the measures, said they were in response to the "unprovoked and illegal military seizure of Crimea."
Ukraine's Chicago Consul General Andriy Pravednyk supported both, saying Crimea had been "unlawfully annexed" in "an act of aggression against my country."
Yet Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), while decrying the Crimean "invasion" as "an infamous, dastardly act by a tyrant," Russia's Vladimir Putin, wondered aloud about cutting cultural ties to Moscow. She suggested looking into the city divesting itself of any Russian economic connections.
"I understand the need to send a very strong message," added Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). Yet he defended the "extremely important exchanges" that take place as part of the Sister City program and suggested economic sanctions instead.
By suspending the Moscow ties, Waguespack said, "you cut off people who are moderate in Russia who are opposed to Putin and what he's doing."
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), another lead sponsor of the resolutions, countered that "Putin obviously does not care" and said cutting the ties to Russian moderates might actually strengthen their position in opposing Putin.
Sam Scott, chairman of Chicago Sister Cities International, said he supported the resolution in solidarity with Ukraine, but argued in favor of keeping Moscow as a Sister City. He said the organization, which fosters cultural exchanges and economic ties between cities, was based on "people-to-people diplomacy," not government actions.
"Don't stop the dialog," Scott said, adding that it would be the first suspension of any of the city's 28 Sister City connections. He said those most likely to feel the effect would be Chicago's 28,000 Russian immigrants and pointed to how, with it 13,000 Ukrainian residents, Chicago is also Sister City to Kiev.
Yet Pavlo Bandrivsky, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America's Illinois Division, argued forcibly against what he called "brazen Putinesque Russian aggression" and the "fascist, xenophobic invasion of Ukraine." He cited a U.S. pledge to maintain Ukrainian integrity as part of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and said U.S. integrity is "on the line."
Bandrivsky said Putin "has put his neck in a metaphorical noose" with the Crimean annexation and called on U.S. officials to "tighten that noose" in every way.
"We think that this is an important step," he said of the resolutions and called on the aldermen to "send a message" of "outrage," adding, "We also ask Mayor Emanuel to be a mensch and support this message as well."
The resolutions cleared committee by a voice vote without opposition and now head to the full City Council for approval next week.