Vermont and City of Burlington Sever Ties With Russia | Off Message

Vermont and City of Burlington Sever Ties With Russia


Hockey players from Burlington sister city Yaroslavl, Russia, in Colchester in 2020 - JAMES BUCK FILE PHOTO
  • James Buck file photo
  • Hockey players from Burlington sister city Yaroslavl, Russia, in Colchester in 2020
Burlington and the State of Vermont both announced steps Thursday to show solidarity with Ukraine by cutting ties to Russia.

Burlington announced it's suspending a sister-city program with Yaroslavl, Russia, which sent a delegation of ice hockey players to compete in the Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classic just two years ago. The Russians got plenty of attention as they skated on Malletts Bay in Colchester.

Gov. Phil Scott had previously announced on Monday that state liquor stores would no longer sell the few Russian-owned brands they have offered. At his weekly press conference, Scott said he's also asked State Treasurer Beth Pearce to review and liquidate any investments Vermont has in Russia. He has also asked Administration Secretary Kristin Clouser to halt any purchases of Russian goods and terminate contracts with Russian entities.

"We should not support businesses that are funding this horrible war," Scott said, of Russia's invasion of its European neighbor.

Scott has also asked the legislature to appropriate $643,077 — one dollar for every Vermonter — for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

The legislature was off this week for its annual Town Meeting Day break. But in a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) and House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) said, "[W]e are united in both chambers to take immediate legislative action and get humanitarian aid out the door as soon as we return next week."

They added: "We know that there is only so much we can do here in Vermont, but this is a time to come together and show that an attack on democracy, and the callous killing of innocent civilians, shall not go unaddressed."

Scott's order also ended a dormant sister-state relationship Vermont has had since 1991 with the Republic of Karelia, a region of Russia. The order encourages any Vermont city or town to end any similar relationship.

Thursday evening, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced he was suspending the program with Yaroslavl. The Queen City once had an active arrangement with Yaroslavl that started in 1988, when Bernie Sanders was mayor. Now Vermont's junior senator, Sanders honeymooned that year in what was then the Soviet Union with his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders.

Weinberger's statement said that he's had only "limited engagement" with the program because of the arrest in 2013 of Yaroslavl mayor and Putin critic Yevgeny Urlashov.

"Since Mayor Urlashov’s arrest," the statement from Weinberger's office said, "Mayor Weinberger has declined multiple invitations to visit Yaroslavl."

An official with the nonprofit that has run the program sent Seven Days a statement calling the decision disappointing.

"This is a counterproductive measure that will only serve to further isolate the people of Russia, many of whom do not support this military action as evidenced by the thousands of Russians protesting in the streets at great personal risk," says a statement from Oliver Carling, president of the nonprofit that runs the sister-city program. The statement condemns the invasion, but says eliminating "people-to-people" is the wrong approach.

Matthew Roy contributed to this report.