Historically, Switzerland and Russia have always had a special relationship. This interrelation is described in a number of books. In the book entitled “Käser, Künstler, Kommunisten” (Cheesemakers, Artists, Communists)1 the life stories of a number of personalities as well as the way in which they worked in their respective countries, are documented. A long tradition of mutual exchange developed, which has continued up to this day. As early as in the 17th century Peter the Great appointed the Swiss François Lefort (1656–1699) the first Admiral of his newly created Marine. Swiss people also played an important role in the Russian educational sphere and in the second half of the 19th century in the slowly evolving economy. But not only Swiss people moved to Russia, from the 18th century onwards an enhanced movement of Russian people to Switzerland could be observed. Especially Geneva became the Russian capital of Switzerland and offered many Russians a new homeland.2
Anyone traveling the old Gotthard road from Göschenen to Andermatt by car, passes the Schöllenenschlucht and can see the great Suvorov-monument left hand. When in 2009 the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Switzerland as the first Russian President, he insisted on visiting the monument together with the then Federal President Rudolf Merz. In 1799, Suvorov had moved with his army accross a number of Swiss passes aiming at expelling Napoleon from Switzerland together with the Austrians.
When Europe after the Napoleonic Wars had ended, was realigned at the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15, Russia vehemently supported the idea of Swiss neutrality which was finally recognized by the major European powers under international law. Tsar Alexander I, “alumnus of the Swiss Frédéric César de La Harpe”3, also played a decisive role in this context. Since then, Switzerland has had a special position in Europe, which has befitted it until today. Until today, Switzerland is able to pursue its own policy as a neutral state, surrounded by states which had to give up part of their sovereignty because of their membership to an alliance. Due to this particular situation various groups of victims of political persecution from all over Europe came to Switzerland as a safe haven in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.
It was not uncommon that even Russian Social Revolutionaries, who revolted against the untenable Czarist regime and were exposed to persecution by the Cheka, the Czarist secret police, fled to Switzerland because here both the political democratic system as well as the humanitarian tradition of Switzerland protected the so afflicted refugee from persecution. During this time Geneva became a center of persecuted Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries, who enjoyed great freedom in Switzerland. Representatives of Russian anarchism in Switzerland like Piotr Kropotkin and Michail Bakunin exerted their influence on their native countries during a short time. Leader of the Mensheviks like Georgi Plekhanov or Wera Sassulitsch settled in Switzerland for a longer time to escape the persecution of democratically working people in Russia. The best-known figure was certainly Vladimir Ulyanov, called Lenin, who took refuge in Geneva and Zurich from the Czarist secret police until his return to Russia in 1917.
After the end of World War II, both countries tried to normalize their relations. In 1946, their established mutual diplomatic relations testified this. Next year Russia and Switzerland will celebrate the 70-year anniversary of this diplomatic exchange.
From the time of Perestroika onwards, the contacts between Russia and Switzerland initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev have intensified at all levels of social life. In the first half of the 21st century, Switzerland belongs to “the most important foreign investors in Russia”.4
The quality of Russian-Swiss relations became visible as well in recent times. The two-day state visit of Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 expressed great esteem for Switzerland. In one of his speeches he spoke up against the pressure of some EU countries and the USA, defended the Swiss banking secrecy and praised it as a law for protecting the personality. It was the only state at that time which sided distinctly with Switzerland. During his visit, President Medvedev took up the idea of Mikhail Gorbachev to build acommon security architecture in Europe5, and invited Switzerland to be part of it. Today, in view of the Ukraine-conflict, people would be happy if there were a European security architecture, which would not only avoid creation of conflicts, but peacefully resolve them once they were there.
When Switzerland held the Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014, it tried very hard to follow this path to more peace in Europe. Thanks to the acceptance of Swiss neutrality one succeeded in finding a balance between the conflicting parties in Ukraine, Switzerland being instrumental in its basic structure. Switzerland is earning praise for its efforts from all stakeholders, including the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who repeatedly held talks with representatives of Switzerland, in particular with Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter.
Since 2007, there has now been the “Memorandum of Understanding”, which aims at the expansion and strengthening of the Swiss-Russian relations at multiple levels. Both states are interested in a constructive mutual dialogue, and after signing this memorandum relations have intensified. This concern is also supported by political initiatives in the Swiss Parliament. For example, the National Councillor and Councillor of Canton Valais Oskar Freysinger has filed a motion in Berne, which demands the Federal Councillor to start “negotiations on a free trade agreement with Russia”6 without delay.
Freysinger attributes this to the longstanding relationships that Switzerland and Russia have jointly maintain as well as to the fact that Russia is an integral part of Europe and must not be isolated in any way.
Such meetings, as they took place around the inter-parliamentary Union in Geneva, are to be very welcomed and can make an important contribution to international understanding and peace. •
1 Käser, Künstler, Kommunisten (Cheesemakers, Artists, Communists); Editors: Eva Maeder and Peter Niederhäuser, Zurich 2009
2 Mikhail Shishkin: The Russian Switzerland,
3 Käser, Künstler, Kommunisten (Cheesemakers, Artists, Communists); p. 23
4 ibid, p. 11
5 Mikhail Gorbachev: The new Russia,
6 Current Concerns, No. 24 from 23 September 2015
Stéphane Rossini, Presiding Officer of the Swiss Parliament, and Claude Hêche, Presiding Officer of the Swiss Council of States, discussed Swiss-Russian relations with their respective counterparts, Duma chairman Sergej Naryschin and Federation Council Chairman Walentina Matwijenko on 20 October, respectively 19 October.
In the debate with their Russian ministerial colleagues, they emphasized the significance of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed by Switzerland and Russia in 2007 in order to establish a framework for intensified cooperation as a pillar of Swiss-Russian relations.
The Swiss-Russian cooperation comprises a variety of topics, during the discussions the potential of a closer collaboration on the technical level in the fields of innovation, research, health and energy was in particular elicited.
Furthermore, in view of the 70-year jubilee of the resumption of diplomatic relations in 2016, the possibility of an advanced exchange about the issue of federalism was initiated. Federalism is one of the mainstays of both countries, which predominantly serves to preserve diversity in unity and to bring the government closer to the citizens.
The exchange also provided the opportunity to stress the Swiss commitment to the peaceful coexistence of peoples. After having presided the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2014, Switzerland has continued to support the OSCE’s controlling work within the framework of the so-called Troika, together with Serbia (Presidency 2015) and Germany (Presidency 2016), and has committed itself to safety and stability within the OSCE area. The focus here is on the crisis in and around Ukraine.
With regard to the ongoing armed conflict in Syria which has been going on for over four years now and has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, the Council officers expressed their hope of rapidly finding an extensive approach to a solution for the migration crisis and for political solutions to the Syria conflict, together with Russia, within the international community.
Since the bilateral MoU in 2007 was signed, the bilateral relations between Switzerland and Russia have been intensified. At parliamentary level, several summit meetings have taken place on the periphery of international conferences ever since.
Regular contacts at the parliamentary groups friendship level also contribute to the cultivation of inter parliamentary relations between Switzerland and Russia.
At the bilateral meeting with Stéphane Rossini, presiding Officer of Swiss Parliament and Duma Chairman Sergej Naryschkin, National Councillor Pierre-François Veillon, President of the Swiss IPU delegation, and National Councillor Lucrezia Meier-Schatz, National Councillor Felix Müri and Member of the Council of State Peter Bieri, both members of the Swiss IPU delegation, were also present, as well as National Councillor Jean-François Steiert and National Councillor Filippo Lombardi, Vice President of the parliamentary group “Switzerland-Russia”.
The bilateral meeting between presiding Officer of Swiss Council of States Claude Hêche and Federation Council Chairman Walentina Matwijenko was accompanied by the Officer of the Swiss IPU delegation and National Councillor Peter Bieri, another member of the Swiss IPU delegation.
Geneva, 20 October 2015,
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