Minnesota lawmakers plan bipartisan divestment from Russia

People take part in a Stand with Ukraine Rally
Members of Ukrainian American community gather at the state Capitol in St. Paul for a Stand with Ukraine Rally to condemn Russia’s war in the country on March 6.
Tim Evans for MPR News file

Minnesota lawmakers announced a plan Thursday to divest the state's pension funds from Russia, joining governors and lawmakers across the U.S. in putting financial pressure on the country over its war in Ukraine.

The legislation, authored by Republican Karin Housley, of Stillwater, in the Senate and Democrat Sydney Jordan in the House, would divest the state's pensions funds, which were estimated to be worth around $53 million before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It would also codify an executive order from Democratic Gov. Tim Walz that prohibits state agencies from doing business with Russian companies.

“We join an ever-growing number of democracies in standing up to the evil being committed in Ukraine,” said Jordan, whose northeast Minneapolis district is home to a sizeable Ukrainian American community. “Not only because standing against tyranny is always the right thing to do, but because we can't allow a single cent from our state to line the pockets of oligarchs and despots who sanction the murder of innocent citizens.”

A person speaks during a press conference at the Capitol.
Luda Anastazievsky, center, a Ukrainian educator in Minnesota public schools for more than 30 years, addresses reporters in front of lawmakers in St. Paul on Thursday.
Mohamed Ibrahim | AP Photo

The bill — which would go into effect Aug. 1 — sets goals of 50 percent divestment nine months after passage and 100 percent after 15 months.

Minnesota joins a number of other U.S. states that have taken actions of their own, from symbolic gestures like lighting capitol buildings with the blue and yellow of Ukraine's flag to legislation that would freeze assets of wealthy Russians with ties to the Kremlin and bar Russian-controlled businesses and nonprofits from purchasing property in their states.

Lawmakers said the divestment shows solidarity with Minnesota's 17,000 Ukrainian residents even though sanctions from states don't have as much impact as national penalties.

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“I think every dollar matters,” said Republican Rep. Jim Nash, of Waconia. “If it’s $53 million, $530 million or $53, I think that the message is an appropriate one, that sovereignty matters.”

Russian forces on Thursday continued to besiege Ukrainian cities amid an exodus of millions of civilians escaping the fighting. Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, which has caused shortages in medicine, food, heat and electricity in cities experiencing Russian shelling.

Luda Anastazievsky said at the lawmakers' news conference that she worries for family members and childhood friends in t he Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, where she was born and raised, as the city endures heavy bombardment from Russian forces that included an airstrike on a maternity hospital Wednesday that killed three people.

Anastazievsky said she supports the divestment legislation as both a Ukrainian and an educator in public schools for more than 30 years.

“As a public employee, I don't want my money to go to Putin to fuel his war machine,” she said. “I urge you to pass this bill and use the financial mechanisms at your disposal to put pressure on Putin's regime so Ukrainians can have a sovereign state and go back to their normal lives.”

Jordan said she plans to introduce an amendment to the bill that would include divestment from Belarus, citing its support of Russia. Leaders say they expect the bill to pass both chambers within the next couple weeks after going through the committee process.