Poe stands by Gainesville’s Russian sister city

Mayor Lauren Poe explained Monday why he believes Gainesville’s sister city relationship with Novorossiysk, Russia, is important and will continue to be even if the war in Ukraine worsens. 

“We condemn the unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine—against a democratic and free people—but that was not the decision of the people of Novorossiysk,” Poe said, before blasting Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It was the decision of a nationalistic tyrant that has his own agenda.”

Poe’s comments came Monday at the inaugural Mainstreet Daily News Newsmaker Interview Series event at Santa Fe College. 

Gainesville’s mayor said he has been in touch with his counterparts in Novorossiysk to let them know that the city still supports the people of its Russian sister city. Gainesville partnered with Novorossiysk in the 1980s before the fall of the Soviet Union. He said it was the first relationship of its kind. 

“We believe people-to-people diplomacy is still important,” Poe said.

In protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Tallahassee has cut ties with Krasnodar, its sister city in Russia. Poe said he was “heartbroken” by Tallahassee’s decision and wrote a “very determined” letter to his counterpart, John Dailey, opposing the move.

President and former general Dwight Eisenhower established the Sister City program in 1956 with the goal of encouraging community-level exchanges that helped promote peace and understanding.

“[Eisenhower] saw in his experience as a military commander and as a president, that national leaders play a different game,” Poe said. “But when people are able to talk to people, that is when you see breakthroughs, and that is where you build understanding, and you build bridges, and you start creating a more peaceful and prosperous world.”

Poe said the city was also working with Rzeszów, Gainesville’s sister city in Poland, which has taken in thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

When Mainstreet publisher J.C. Derrick asked Poe if he had any sort of “red line” that might make him reconsider, he said he said he does not think in those terms and reiterated his ongoing support for the relationship. 

“I believe in citizen diplomacy,” Poe said. “I believe that nations build walls, and mayors build bridges and build communities. And that’s what we are trying to do with Sister Cities.”

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