Coventry Conservatives are backing calls to suspend the city’s twinning arrangement with Volgograd in Russia. The request has been made by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (Coventry Branch) in response to the ongoing atrocities being committed by the Russian State in Ukraine.
The request comes as many organisations suspend links with Russia in a show of solidarity with Ukraine. A local theatre has cancelled a tour by the Russian State Ballet and the City of Culture organisation has postponed an event relating to Volgograd. Several UK cities have also suspended twining and friendship arrangements with cities in Russia. Most notably Glasgow with Rostov and Manchester with St Petersburg.
Coventry has been twinned with Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, since1944. The link goes back to the second world war when both countries stood up to Nazi aggression.
They are some who believe that the arrangement should be maintained and used to show the Russian people how unacceptable their state’s actions have become. However, critics point out this approach has failed in the past and there is no reason to believe this will change.
There has been growing unease with the twinning relationship in recent years as the behaviour of the Russian state has become increasingly aggressive. In 2018 the ruling Labour group were criticised for sending three councillors to a ‘peace conference’ in Volgograd just months after the Salisbury poisonings.
In October 2021, Labour councillors were criticised for failing to challenge the Russian Ambassador to the UK on human rights abuses when he visited the city. Ironically, a post on the embassy’s Facebook page still says: “As long as we remember our history, the horrors of war and its consequences, there is still hope that we can avoid such tragedies in the future”.
The Leader of the city’s Conservative Group, Cllr Gary Ridley, has written to the Leader of the Council on the matter. In the letter he describes the situation as ‘deeply regrettable and not one of our choosing’ and promises to force a vote on the issue if a decision isn’t taken quickly.
Commenting on the request Cllr Gary Ridley, the Leader of the Coventry Conservative Group, said: “Russia has brought barbarism back into our world. In this country, we stand up to bullies, we don’t look the other way. Suspending the twinning arrangement is just one simple, and proportionate, step we could take to show the world we stand with Ukraine and against aggression. It would show that our sympathy is with the innocent men, women and children who are being indiscriminately shelled. Across the globe Russia is righty becoming a pariah state. If we are inconsistent in that approach it will damage our reputation as a city of peace and reconciliation, and I fear they’ll use it for propaganda purposes. In any case, after the latest violence and human rights breaches, how can Coventry continue to have a ‘business as usual’ relationship with them?”
Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Peter Male and added: “Some have argued that we should retain the link to demonstrate to the Russian people how unacceptable their actions are. However, they don’t explain how they’ll do that. In the past the twining didn’t prevent the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2014, or the chemical weapons attack on UK soil, or the shooting down of a passenger airline. I recognise that there are many Russians who do not agree with their government but reasoning with Putin doesn’t work. The western world has to take a strong, and united stand, against Putin’s war. It’s incredibly naive to think that we can use the link to challenge Russia on their human rights abuses – and there’s no evidence our city’s leaders have tried in the past either.”