ef. On 20 and 21 October 2016, the Swiss government received an official visit from Russia. Valentina Matvienko, Chairperson of the Federation Council, the Russian upper house, took part in the annual meeting of all Senate presidents of Europe in Berne. On 20 October, she attended the 16th session of the Russian Economic and Financial Forum in Switzerland. For her stay in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) had issued an extraordinary entry permit “on grounds of national interest” because, like other Russian politicians, she is still on the EU and US sanctions list. Although Switzerland has not accepted the EU sanctions of 2014, the special permit was necessary because of the Schengen agreement.
On the occasion of her visit, talks were also held with Council of States president Raphaël Comte and Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss Foreign Minister.
The former president of the Council Of States, Filippo Lombardi (CVP), issued the invitation as early as in 2013, because he expected the meeting to lead to a “thaw in bilateral relations”. In the spring of 2014, Switzerland had suspended its negotiations on a free trade agreement with Russia, which had been conducted in the EFTA framework. FDP National Councillor Hans-Peter Portmann told the newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger” in August: “Switzerland must strive to reduce its economic dependency on the EU. ‘This includes expanding our trading activities in markets such as Russia’.” (9 August 2016)
The fight against terrorism was also discussed at the meeting of Senate presidents, which currently includes 15 European countries. It was agreed that in this field, the cooperation of the countries is of utmost importance.
Parliamentarians should enhance cooperation internationally in order to agree on the “UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism” as soon as possible, said Mrs Matvienko to her colleagues. She stressed that Russia’s position on this issue was that the interntional anti-terrorist cooperation must be based on the existing international legal framework, in particular, the UN Security Council resolutions and the global counterterrorism strategy of the United Nations. Despite the great importance of international cooperation and international mechanisms to counter terrorism, nation states should play a key role in that issue.
After her meeting with Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, she told journalists that Switzerland had a very balanced position “even speeking about sanctions.” About the Swiss Foreign Minister she said that he “once again showed interest in developing and deepening relations with Russia as strategic relations. This is Switzerland’s stance that has remained unchanged, and we appreciate very much both our bilateral cooperation and cooperation on the international agenda”.
During her meeting with the President of the Council of States, Raphaël Comte, he pointed out the difficult situation in Ukraine and Syria and the subsequent flow of refugees. He continued to say that it was a Swiss tradition to take a stand for dialogue, peace and humanitarian aid with all partners. Switzerland did this bilaterally, within the framework of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other organizations. The parliamentary level was particularly suitable for dialogue, since parliamentarians were often in a position to express themselves more openly than government representatives might be able to do. Switzerland expected a constructive approach from Russia in the context of the negotiations that were taking place to resolve the ongoing conflicts. According to Comte, the Minsk Agreement and the resolution of the conflict in the Donets Basin had the highest priority. (Swiss Parliament press release of 20 Oct. 2016)
In an interview with the newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger”, Valentina Matvienko commented on international cooperation: “Today everyone knows that no major international problem or even a regional conflict can be solved without us. On the contrary, Russia plays an increasingly important role in world politics. We advocate compliance with international law, leadership of the UN, and ensuring security of all. We are against the interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and for these aims we are getting more and more support in the world.” (translated by Current Concerns)
When asked what kind of world Russia wanted, she replied, “We are advocating a multipolar world and we refuse to accept it when a single state or group of states tries to dictate conditions to another country. This is not acceptable; the world has changed. A very fundamental transformation is taking place. We are advocating a more equitable worldorder in which the national interests of each country are valid. We are not letting ourselves be provoked and we are engaging in a dialogue with all our partners.” (20.10.2016, translated by Current Concerns) •
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