Speech by Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov at the Sister Cities International Global Conversation
It is my pleasure to use this opportunity to discuss the current state of affairs as well as prospects for cooperation between Russian and US regions.
Relations between our countries are in a deep crisis. Almost every day Russia faces baseless accusations of what we have not done. Our country is labeled an “adversary” that must be deterred in every possible way. And any constructive development in the bilateral dialogue is somehow perceived as a sort of concession by Washington.
We, of course, do not share this approach. We have consistently advocated for a higher level of stability and predictability of Russian-American ties. Peace and prosperity on the planet depend on the interaction between our countries – the biggest nuclear powers and UN Security Council permanent members.
The only thing we want is to build relations on the basis of equality and mutual consideration of interests.
It is worth noting that prominent American ex-officials and experts increasingly often voice the idea that Washington should revise its policy towards Russia and abandon attempts to achieve unilateral concessions fr om Moscow.
In the run-up to presidential elections in the United States breakthroughs can hardly be expected. The "Russia card" is still being actively exploited during the campaign. Baseless allegations of Russian interference in the democratic process never stop.
Nevertheless, we hope that common sense will prevail and Russophobic rhetoric will not result in additional blows to our relations.
As a positive sign I would like to mention regular contacts between our presidents. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump had several telephone conversations during recent months. Their dialogue contributed greatly to the stabilization of the global oil market.
According to the high-level agreements our countries helped each other by providing medical supplies to fight COVID-19.
There is a developing dialogue between heads of secretariats of the national security councils, foreign and defense ministries.
We have intensified our consultations on strategic stability. We hope that full restoration of channels for professional communication could resolve the existing issues between our two countries.
In various parts of the United States, outside of Washington, D.C., we notice a pragmatic approach to cooperation with Russia. That is why, today contacts between regions are of particular importance as they can create new opportunities for developing our partnership.
It would be great if every state in the United States could find a partner among the federal subjects of Russia and outline specific plans and mutually beneficial projects. Such cooperation could help build a stronger foundation for inter-state communication at the federal level.
Many US businesses choose to operate outside Moscow and the Moscow region. The footprint of American businesses can be seen in the Ural – in the Sverdlovsk and Tyumen regions, above all. Recently, we held a virtual Texas-Ural conversation wh ere entrepreneurs and local authorities discussed the prospects for expanding business cooperation.
American investments helped launch factories in the Belgorod, Vologda, Lipetsk, Novgorod, Rostov and other regions. Businesses from the United States come to Siberia and the Far East. Ties between the Republic of Tatarstan and California are growing stronger, especially in the high-tech sector.
Russian business is also building up its presence in American regions. Russian metallurgic factories successfully operate in Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Our oil and gas and oilfield service companies are represented in Texas and New York.
University exchanges were developing successfully before the pandemic. Here is an example – joint research projects of the University of Alaska and Kamchatka State Technical University and the Institute of volcanology and seismology of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There are also well-established ties between the University of California and the State University of Tyumen.
There is a positive trend in relations between sister cities, too. This February a delegation from Albany (New York) visited its sister city Tula. There is an active dialogue between Moscow and Chicago and Los Angeles, including on the development of the smart city concept.
There are constant contacts between Magadan and Anchorage, Yakutsk and Fairbanks, Yekaterinburg and San Jose, Novorossiysk and Gainesville, Vladivostok and Juneau.
The Leningrad region and Maryland are the only pair of sister regions at the moment, but they have been enjoying friendly relations for almost quarter of a century.
In early September the city of Duluth (Minnesota) offered a warm welcome for Russian travelers, who are making an around-the-world journey on a ship built in Petrozavodsk – Duluth’s sister city. In 2021 Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Tagil will host the first international music festival of sister cities “Jazz Train to Chattanooga”. The event is scheduled to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Nizhny Tagil and Chattanooga (Tennessee).
The coronavirus pandemic stressed the importance of the cooperation between municipalities. The experience-sharing in the spheres of health and work during quarantine can help better adapt to the epidemiologic situation. This was one of the central topics at the round table organized by the Union of Russian Cities on September 18 and attended by representatives of American municipalities
Another important and noble area of bilateral cooperation between regions is preserving historical memory. This year the world celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Victory in World War II.
Despite the pandemic we managed to organize joint commemorative ceremonies. For example, a monument to the Russian and American military pilots “To the Heroes of ALSIB” was inaugurated in Magadan on May 9, 2020. This event was attended by representatives of the sister city of Anchorage (Alaska). Ethan Berkowitz, the mayor of the city, sent a warm video address on the occasion of the opening of this memorial.
The same day another outstanding event took place. In Egvenikot in Chukotka and Fairbanks in Alaska wreathes were simultaneously laid to the monuments in honor of the heroes of ALSIB. The event was attended by representatives of local authorities of both cities, including Mayor of Fairbanks Jim Matherly.
We also hope that representatives of sister cities in Florida will participate in the opening ceremony of the monument to Hero of the Soviet Union Marcel Albert, a French pilot of the legendary Normandy-Neman regiment, in Chipley.
The Russian side will continue to actively support the development of ties at the regional and municipal levels. We believe that it will be mutually beneficial for dwellers of sister cities and stabilize the whole complex of the Russian-American relations.
Answers to questions received during and after the online-conference.
What are the prospects for cooperation between Russian and U.S. volunteer organizations?
Contacts at this level can become another promising area of Russian-American cooperation. In Russia, high priority is accorded to the development of the volunteer movement. A powerful impetus in this sphere was given by such significant events for our country as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
At the initiative of President Vladimir Putin, the year of 2018 was declared Year of Volunteers in Russia. During 2018, the number of volunteers in our country doubled, reaching 14 million people. There was a rapid development of centers for the popularization of the volunteer movement and the training of those wishing to join its ranks. In 2018, over 900 projects in this area received funding from Presidential Grants Foundation for a total of 1.7 billion roubles. Programs to stimulate such undertakings were also actively developed at the regional level.
Volunteers have played a significant role in countering the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways, through their efforts, assistance was provided for the elderly, people with reduced mobility and medical staff. As part of the nationwide campaign of mutual support "We Are Together", organized in all regions of Russia, its participants delivered medicines and food for the most vulnerable categories of the population. In the first month alone, 97,000 volunteers and about 1,700 companies took part in this project.
By the Decree of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of June 2020, the state decoration "For Beneficence" may be awarded for a significant personal contribution to the development of the volunteer movement.
I believe that representatives of Russian and U.S. volunteer organizations will find it interesting to share experience in implementing projects and adopt the best practices from each other in their noble mission.
What are the prospects for dialogue between municipalities, including a possible visit of a delegation of the Union of Russian Cities to the United States to meet with members of the Sister Cities International?
The development of sister city relations between Russia and United States began during the Cold War. The first pair of twinned cities of the USSR and the USA were Tashkent and Seattle. This idea was born in 1971. And then, in 1972, its implementation was facilitated by the visit of Richard Nixon to our country.
The sisterhood between more than 100 Soviet and American cities was established henceforth. It was a factor that contributed to the reduction of tensions between Moscow and Washington. Currently, there are 77 pairs of Russian and American sister cities at the municipal and regional levels.
In the present difficult circumstances, the development of ties between cities of the two countries is in a great demand. In recent years, a number of delegations from American cities have visited our country. In October 2019, representatives of the Sister Cities International visited Moscow to participate in the First Russian-American Municipal Forum organized by the Union of Russian Cities. A return visit to the United States by officials from Russian cities after the stabilization of the epidemiological situation could be an important step towards further strengthening of cooperation.
At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic should not impede the building of cooperation between Russian and American cities: dialogue can also be maintained remotely.
In your opinion, what potential do ties between sister cities have in developing trade and investment cooperation between Russia and the United States?
In our conversations the heads of regions and municipalities of the Russian Federation regularly tell us about their readiness to engage in a direct dialogue with American businesses.
Regional authorities are interested in attracting investments and technologies. They are ready to provide foreign companies with favorable conditions for doing business. Our regions widely use the practice of establishing special economic zones with fiscal benefits and simplified administrative regulation.
Russian regions are also distinguished by relatively low costs of real estate and labor of all levels of qualification. And some parts of our country, namely Transurals, Siberia and Far East offer truly unique opportunities. A considerable potential of resources, including human resources, is concentrated there.
I believe that the development of contacts between small and medium size businesses is of particular importance.
In our turn, the Russian Embassy is committed to facilitate the establishment of trade and investment contacts at the regional level.