As Bernie Sanders Pushed for Closer Ties, Soviet Union Spotted Opportunity

Mr. Sanders personally managed the Soviet delegation’s visit to Burlington in October to sign the sister-city agreement, holding at least three phone calls with Yaroslavl officials and transmitting a detailed program covering seven days. There was a pilgrimage to the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, where co-founder Ben Cohen told the Soviet officials they could have anything they liked in the gift shop, a delegation member, Yuri Novikov, recalled in an interview.

While the Yaroslavl documents show the Soviets to be planning a propaganda effort in Burlington, Mr. Casca, the Sanders campaign spokesman, said the reality was different when the Yaroslavl delegation arrived in Vermont in October 1988.

“Reporting at the time is clear, rather than propaganda, officials on both sides discussed the limitations of the Soviet system and their common desire to avoid nuclear war,” Mr. Casca said.

Three decades later, amid reports that the Kremlin was looking favorably upon Mr. Sanders’s presidential candidacy (as well as Mr. Trump’s), the Burlington-Yaroslavl relationship lives on in an era of renewed tensions between Washington and Moscow.

In February, the Yaroslavl Bears amateur hockey team played in an annual Burlington pond hockey tournament; Yaroslavl officials said the U.S. Embassy in Moscow made a special effort to arrange the team’s visas in time.

Some of the Yaroslavl residents involved in the relationship with Burlington still look back wistfully at the heady circumstances of Mr. Sanders’s visit in 1988 — a time when the Iron Curtain was starting to crumble, the Soviet Union seemed poised for democratic change, and interactions with Americans felt new and fascinating.

Mr. Novikov, a former head of the Yaroslavl Medical Institute who by his count made 10 trips to Burlington, said he had seen on TV that Mr. Sanders did not want Russians interfering in the campaign. In Mr. Novikov’s view, the goal of a President Sanders should be, at the least, to restore the level of cooperation that existed in the last years of the Cold War.