WASHINGTON, June 17 (RIA Novosti), Lyudmila Chernova, Petr Martynichev — Despite the pressure from the US State Department to cancel a US-Russia Innovation week wrapped around the notion of US Russia Innovation Working Group in Minnesota, Minnesota Secretary of State decided to hold the event.
“We did what we planned to do,” Mark Ritchie told RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the 2014 US-Russia Forum in Washington, D.C.
“Governments try to tell civil society to do or not to do something and it doesn’t work. It’s like parents and teenagers,” he said.
The US authorities instructed state institutions to suspend cooperation with Russian colleagues and encouraged businesses to abstain from the participation in the recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in light of disagreements on the Ukrainian situation. The US introduced a series of sanctions against Moscow after Crimea voted to join Russia in March.
The Minnesota conference also took place in March. It was planned alongside the fifth meeting of the US Russia Innovation Working Group, which was established in 2011 to boost research and business cooperation between the two countries.
“The decision by [former Russian] President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama to create a working group to improve relations is a very thoughtful approach, but the decision not to continue that discussion is obviously a backing away from a positive idea based not just in business, but in academia and civil society,” Ritchie said.
The US authorities said they saw the temporary suspension of cooperation and discussion as a form of punishment for Russia, he said.
The event ended up with double the expected turnout but no Washington officials in attendance.
“The pressure on me was not to have an official event, which made a big difference in participation of the US official people, because the official government made the decision which meant that we were there in a place for all these people who wanted this dialogue to continue,” Ritchie said.
In his speech to the forum, Minnesota's Secretary of State said the State Department planned to suspend the event.
“We were pretty far down the road building a very large conference outside the formal conference. So, as a group, we decided to go ahead with it. I could hear the silence on the other end of the phone, and could feel the pressure. When you invite somebody over for dinner, you don’t call them at 4:30 saying the dinner is off because Washington called and told to cancel it. In fact, if it happens, you certainly talk it over and say, maybe we need a bigger dinner, maybe this will double our attendance, which it did. We need to say out loud, talking is what we need to do,” Ritchie said.
“The bottom line is, when somebody wants to freeze something. You don’t have to be frozen. When somebody wants to stop talking, you don’t have to stop talking,” he said.