The cutting of ties between Australia’s Melbourne and Russia’s St. Petersburg has filled the Australian media overnight with coverage on television, newspapers and radio.

This follows the City of Melbourne voting late yesterday to totally sever its previously suspended 34-year-old “sister city” relationship with St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin’s birthplace. It had previously suspended the relationship in March 2022.

In the lead-up to the severance decision, Melbourne’s elected officials had been under pressure from various sources, including the Australian-Ukrainian organizations, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko, and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who recently returned from a security conference in Kyiv.

Of course Melbourne City Council should terminate the sister city deal with St. Petersburg given Putin’s genocidal attacks,” Abbott tweeted before the decision was taken. 

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In an interview on Sky News immediately after the Council’s decision, Stefan Romaniw, Co-Chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, said that “suspension [was] not good enough.”

“We are talking about atrocities. We have to sever all relations with Russia. That happened this evening,” Romaniw of the peak national Ukrainian organization said.

“Melbourne now stands with the international community by banning and severing ties with Russia – which is great,” he said while crediting the Council.

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With the US dithering, the implications need to be recognized and decisive action taken to avoid disaster in the shape of a Russian victory in Ukraine.

Council members, including Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp, joined Ukrainian community members holding a “flash mob” outside Melbourne Town Hall before they debated and took their decision at a Council meeting.

The formal and adopted resolution to end the relationship stated that the Council “terminates Melbourne’s sister city relationship with St. Petersburg in protest at Russia’s continued armed aggression in Ukraine.”

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Afterwards, Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor took to Twitter where he said the decision was madeas a symbol of our outrage at Russia’s illegal and immoral aggression against the people of Ukraine.”

It is understood that Ukraine’s Ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko wrote to the City of Melbourne some months ago about the “sister city” relationship, but had received no reply until the termination resolution was put forward.

Saying it would “send a powerful message,” the AFUO has now called on Melbourne – a port city known for its cultural life – to enter into a new “sister city” relationship with Odesa, Ukraine – also a port city with a strong cultural reputation.

“City of Odesa Councilor Lilia Leonidova is here in Melbourne for a Rotary convention and is ready to talk to Melbourne councilors,” Romaniw said.

Odesa has one of the oldest “sister city” relationships – with Vancouver, Canada since 1944.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, city diplomacy has been previously affected. In March 2022, Coventry in the UK paused its “sister city” relationship with Russia’s Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). It was the first such relationship ever formed and also dated to World War II.

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The City of Melbourne’s official website does not yet reflect the decision to fully sever the relationship and continues to list. St Petersburg as a “suspended” sister city. It currently reads:

“Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. On 1 March 2022, the City of Melbourne determined that it would suspend its sister city relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia, for an indefinite period. The City of Melbourne stands with the people of Ukraine, the people of St. Petersburg, and victims of war everywhere. We condemn the acts of violent aggression by the Russian Government. All Council support for activities by civic, cultural and community organizations requiring cooperation with the government of St. Petersburg, and all formal cooperation between the governments of the sister cities, is suspended.”

Greens councilors Rohan Leppert, who initiated the process at Town Hall to suspend the Melbourne/St. Petersburg relationship in 2022, has said that the City of Melbourne almost cut ties with the Russian city in 2014-15. Then, it was caused by what he said was a “spate of homophobic attacks that were occurring.”

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He said that, in 2014-15, “the council was convinced by Russians living in Melbourne to maintain the ties.”

St. Petersburg reportedly holds the record for the largest number of partnership arrangements with other communities. Russian authorities refer to “sister city” arrangements as “sworn brother cities.”

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