Accessibility links

Russia: Yeltsin Honors U.S. Official With Highest Award

  • Bruce Keppel

Bellingham, Wash.; 21 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Ralph Munro is a long-time elected official of the Pacific coastal state of Washington, whose central duties as secretary of state are strictly provincial but whose personal outlook is much more global.

It is Munro's global outlook that caught the eye of Boris Yeltsin. According to the Russian consulate in Seattle, that's why the Russian president chose this 54-year-old native of Washington to receive the Russian Order of Friendship, the highest award bestowed by the Federation upon non-citizens.

Under Washington state's constitution, Munro's job as secretary of state is mainly custodial -- to organize and conduct elections, keep track of corporations doing business in the state and maintain state records and archives. That's not the sort of responsibilities that one might expect to catch the eye of the president of a foreign country.

So why, from Russia's point of view, select Ralph Munro for the Order of Friendship?

The reason lies in the fact that Munro, who has won statewide elections to be secretary of state five times since 1980, believes that his responsibilities include the future well-being of the state of Washington. And that includes looking beyond the Pacific Ocean.

Over the years, Munro has led the state's effort to help resettle refugees to the state -- first the so-called boat people from Vietnam and, more recently, immigrants from the former Soviet Union -- and especially from Russia and Ukraine. Washington state now is home to more than 15,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Having become something of an expert in the resettlement of refugees, Munro a few years ago was invited by Germany to advise the federal government there on how to cope with the river of refugees flowing its way since the end of the Cold War.

Moreover, in a state that is home to the world's leading aircraft and aerospace concern, Boeing, to the world's leading producer of computer software systems, Microsoft, and to a strong agricultural, fishing and timber sector, Washington's economy depends increasingly on foreign trade.

Reflecting that evolution Munro in the last five years has made repeated trips to both the former Soviet Union, particularly to the Russian Far East, either heading or participating in delegations to promote trade and cultural exchanges.

A byproduct of such visits was the choice by Russia five years ago of Seattle, Washington's leading city, as the site of its first new consulate in the United States in 20 years. Another byproduct is that Washington state has opened its own trade office in Vladivostok, the Russian Far East port city where Washington's apple farmers in 1996 sponsored a rock concert known as "Vladi-ROCK-stok."

Trade between Russia and the United States has been growing by about a $1 billion a year. The fastest growth has come among the Pacific Coastal states of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Today, container ships sail weekly from Puget Sound ports, filled with export goods that have given Washington state a trade surplus with the Russian Far East, despite an overall national deficit in trade with Russia for the United States as a whole.

In short, Washington state's economy is today more dependent than any of the other 50 states on foreign trade, and Secretary of State Ralph Munro's efforts have helped that happen.

Such is the background behind Yeltsin's honoring Munro in recognition, the citation reads, of his "great contribution to the development of friendship and cooperation between citizens of the Russian Federation and the United States of America." The award will be presented to Munro on January 30th by Georgi Vlaskin, Russia's consul general in Seattle during a rare appearance before the Washington State Legislature.