1st Jul, 2022

Councillors set to vote on Coventry's twinning link with Russian city Volgograd amidst Ukrainian invasion

COUNCILLORS will vote this afternoon whether to decide to suspend Coventry’s twinning link with Volgograd amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The city’s Conservative group has led the campaign to cut ties – after requests from the Coventry branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain.

Many organisations across the world have suspended links with Russia in a show of solidarity with Ukraine including several UK cities.

Coventry has been twinned with Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, since 1944 and the link-up between two cities in different countries was the first in the world to be forged.

The Conservatives said in 2018 the ruling Labour group was criticised for sending three councillors to a ‘peace conference’ in Volgograd just months after the Salisbury poisonings, adding – in October 2021 – Labour was again criticised for failing to challenge the Russian Ambassador to the UK on human rights abuses when he visited the city.

They added it was ironic a post on the embassy’s Facebook page still said: “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 leading Labour group argues the twinning is with the people of Russia and the Volgograd community and not the Russian Government.

In a statement, Coun Abdul Salam Khan, Deputy Leader of Coventry City Council, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine and we call for a swift end to all hostility.

“Coventry has worked as a city of peace and reconciliation for many years, and we will do all we can to help and support the victims of this terrible war.

“Our links with the city of Volgograd helped to start that work for peace. We were the world’s first twins after we reached out to the people of the then Stalingrad during the Second World War after their city had suffered so badly.

“Those links have grown over the years and have benefited many. Together, we have inspired others to work for peace and there are now twins around the world.

“Our friendship has always been with the people of Volgograd – the faith centres, schools, businesses, organisations and all those who share our desire for peace.

“It has never been a link to the Russian Government and never will be. It is with the people and for the benefit of the people.”

At today’s meeting, Conservative Group Leader, Coun Gary Ridley, will outline a plan to suspend the twining arrangement.

The motion also includes a proposal to twin with an appropriate Ukrainian city and welcome refugees into the city. It will be seconded by Conservative Deputy Leader, Coun Peter Male.

The Conservative Group also plans to write to the authorities in Volgograd informing it the arrangement no longer enjoys cross-party support. In the letter it will set out its reasons and urge local leaders to speak out against President Putin.

Coun Ridley said: “There are many brave Russians who are risking their lives to stand up to Putin and his war machine.

“However, there is no doubt the Russian state has used this relationship for propaganda purposes.

“Labour councillors welcomed their representatives and attended their phony peace conferences while they planned war and genocide.

“After this, how can Coventry continue to have a ‘business as usual’ relationship with them?”

Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group, Coun Peter Male 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.

“It’s incredibly naïve 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.

“Councillors around the country have taken difficult, but necessary decisions to suspend or revoke existing twinning arrangements with Russian towns and cities.

“I am concerned that Coventry will find itself isolated, if Coventry City Council fails to support the Conservative Group motion.

“We must take a strong, and united stand, against this war.”

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