From 15 to 19 May 2017, a delegation of the Swiss National Council with representatives of all parliamentary groups visited Russia for one week. Jürg Stahl, President of the National Council, on his trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg was accompanied by seven colleagues. This was the first visit to Russia by federal officials since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis in spring 2014. In Moscow the national councillors spoke with Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Titov, with Deputy Prime Minister responsible for sport Vitaly Mutko as well as with representatives of civil society, political scientists and members of the opposition. In St. Petersburg, Jürg Stahl spoke at the “VII. St. Petersburg International Legal Forum”, an annual international conference that was established in 2011 on the initiative of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation and is supported by the President of the Russian Federation. It is a platform for discussion between politicians, lawyers, economists, and academics. There, Jürg Stahl could have lunch with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The invitation had already been issued a year ago. Hosts in Russia were Duma spokesman Wjatscheslaw Volodin and the Chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko. She had been invited to Switzerland in 2016.
In the run-up to the trip there had been criticism due to the EU sanctions list, on which are both hosts, and also due to alleged instrumentalisation attempts on the part of Russia. However, as Jürg Stahl said ahead of his trip: “Russia is and remains an important partner for Switzerland. We all need the dialogue.” The dialogue had a great tradition in Switzerland, he added in Moscow.
The Swiss delegation and their Russian interlocutors discussed political issues about Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, on economic and medical cooperation and about Sion’s [Swiss capital of the canton of Valais] Olympia candidature.
The National Council delegation was satisfied with the result of the trip even if there are divergences in some respect. Their Russian interlocutors had clearly shown that Switzerland was a welcome partner. There had been a warm-hearted atmosphere, Stahl told the news agency sda.
Russian lawmakers hoped for closer economic cooperation with Switzerland, regardless of the EU’s sanctions, Vladimir Gutenev, first deputy chairman of the economic policy committee of the Russian State Duma lower parliament house, said to the Russian news agency Tass (17 May 2017). He said: “The sanctions are doing harm to both Russia and Switzerland.” After a meeting with representatives of Swiss companies at an international exhibition, National Councillor Adrian Amstutz, chairman of the SVP group of the Federal Assembly stressed: “It is in our mutual interests to remove these barriers. We have certain interest in further development of our trade and economic relations.”
Switzerland never joined in the sanctions which the EU had imposed in 2014 and later extended. However, it took measures against attempts to bypass. Being referred to the sanctions, Jürg Stahl, according to a Tass report of 12 May 2017, said before his trip to Russia: “Switzerland is not an EU member and did not impose sanctions against Russia. […] Still, Switzerland has taken measures to prevent the usage of it’s territory for the purpose of bypassing international sanctions. […] With regard to the country’s neutral status, the Swiss Government decided, apart from that, to widen the existing ban on exporting military equipment in Russia and Ukraine, by adding some defence industry products to it.” He also said: “Parliaments play an important role in bilateral relations […]. Being people’s representatives, MPs contribute to cultivating understanding and trust through direct contacts. I am confident that both parties will benefit from the growth of parliamentary cooperation.”
In Russia, they showed understanding for Switzerland’s position. The Swiss “Luzerner Zeitung” of 18 May wrote about the Russian position: “We understand that Switzerland due to its location in Western Europe and the EU was forced to adopt restrictions to Russia.” Then National Councillor Amstutz is quoted: “A Russian representative said: ‘You yourself have not imposed sanctions. But you also take care so that nobody can bypass the sanctions through Switzerland.’ For a neutral State, that is a pragmatic solution.” Russian’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that “relations between Russia and Switzerland have not been held hostage to the unfavorable global political environment as Berne maintained dialogue with Moscow even under heavy pressure from Washington and Brussels.”
One can only congratulate Switzerland that it represents the Swiss position in these matters. An important contribution to the urgently needed peacekeeping – and worth following! •
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