Ambassador Jack Matlock: Letter to the NY Times Regarding Bernie Sanders’ Trip to the USSR

To the Editor: “Papers Detail Soviet Hopes for Sanders” (front page, March 6) is a distortion of history. The truth is that Bernie Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vt., opened a sister-city relationship with Yaroslavl in 1988 with the encouragement and strong support of the United States government. The visit was not used as propaganda by the Soviet Union. I know because I was U.S. ambassador to the U.S.S.R. at the time and gave strong official support to Mayor Sanders’s effort…

…along with those of other American mayors, to establish ties with cities in the Soviet Union.
Expanding people-to-people ties was one of the important goals of President Ronald Reagan’s policy toward the U.S.S.R., a policy that was continued by President George H.W. Bush.
The explanation the Soviets gave to local Communist officials in Yaroslavl – that sister-city relationships are useful for “carrying out information-propaganda efforts” – was actually an effort to justify Mikhail Gorbachev’s new openness to people who had no contacts with Americans and were trained to see all Americans as spies.
In fact, the contacts played an important role in opening up Soviet society and facilitating Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms.
Jack F. Matlock Jr.
Durham, N.C.
The writer is the author of “Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended.”

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