Cathy OkeTHE City of Melbourne’s sister city relationship with St Petersburg is under threat over Russia’s ban on ‘homosexual propaganda’, as questions persist around whether the relationship can be used to influence the Russian city’s regional version of the law.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle received a letter from the governor of St Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko in October defending the law, but indicated he wished to strengthen the sister city relationship.

Cr Cathy Oke tabled a motion on Tuesday night for the City of Melbourne to investigate whether the council could use any influence from the sister city relationship to advocate for the laws to be repealed.

Failing that, Oke recommended the relationship be suspended until St Petersburg repeals their regional homosexual propaganda laws, enacted in 2012 and before the recent nationwide ban came into effect.

Oke told the Star Observer the sister city relationship does have practical value, particularly around arts and culture.

“Ultimately I’d prefer not to suspend our sister city relationship given it’s longevity and importance to many people in both cities, and this report should assist with this,” she said.

Oke also addressed concerns that suspending the relationship could harm LGBTI people currently living in St Petersburg without leading to any positive change around the anti-gay laws.

“Another of our sister cities, Milan, has suspended its relationship with St Petersburg as well, as have many other sister cities of St Petersburg,” she said.

“There is no suggestion that those actions have caused problems for St Petersburg citizens, however it has kept the issue high on the agenda in media around the world, and that is important – change will only come about if other parts of the world know what’s going on and put the pressure on.”

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