Ukraine’s Zelensky blasts Swiss banks in address to Bern rally

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday blasted firms including Nestle for carrying on business as usual with Russia "even though our children are dying", in a live address to a Swiss rally. 

Ukraine's Zelensky blasts Swiss banks in address to Bern rally
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is displayed on a giant screen after delivering a live voice message during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of the Swiss House of Parliament in Bern, on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Zelensky urged Swiss companies to stop doing business in Russia and told the country’s banks to freeze funds belonging to the Kremlin elite. 

Speaking to a rally outside the Swiss parliament in Bern, Zelensky condemned firms that maintained business as usual despite the siege of Mariupol. 

The thousands of demonstrators gathered in the square in front of the Federal Palace heard Zelensky’s nine-minute speech translated in German, though technical problems interrupted the video from Kyiv. 

Zelensky criticised Swiss companies for continuing to do business in Russia, singling out food giant Nestle. 

The company’s slogan is “good food, good life”, he said. 

“Business works in Russia even though our children are dying and our cities are being destroyed,” and while people in Mariupol were “without food, without water, without electricity, under bombardment”. 

Zelensky said it was “painful” that those behind the conflict had funds stashed in Switzerland. 

“The money of the people who unleashed this war is in your banks. Help fight this. So that their funds are frozen,” he said, urging them to join the “fight against evil”. 

Zelensky called for them to be stripped of their properties and privileges, to cheers from the crowd. 

The number of rich Russians resident in Switzerland has grown in recent years. 

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis joined Ukrainian and other diplomats on a stage above a banner reading “Solidarity with Ukraine. Stop the war now.” 

“I’m deeply impressed, dear Volodymyr, from your willingness to resist, from your willingness to go ahead, and from your willingness and the willingness of your population to overcome this terrific crisis,” he told Zelensky. 

Cassis said he hoped the guns would soon fall silent and said Switzerland was prepared to mediate or host negotiations. 

The Swiss president said he would visit the Polish border with Ukraine on Monday.  Earlier, in a newspaper article, Cassis said Russia’s war in Ukraine was driven by “devastating madness” and said Switzerland was prepared to pay the price for defending freedom and democracy, matching EU sanctions on Russia. 

Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Geneva, told the crowd in Bern: “What is happening in Ukraine is an attack not only on Ukraine, on Ukrainian people, it’s an attack on all of us. 

“We have to work together to ensure that these atrocities stop and will never happen again.  “Thank-you, Switzerland for you help to Ukraine and Ukrainians. Together we will win.” 

SEE ALSO: Switzerland brands war in Ukraine ‘devastating madness’

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LATEST: Moscow says Switzerland can’t represent Kyiv in Russia

Ukraine had asked Switzerland to represent it diplomatically in Russia, but the Kremlin claims the Swiss have 'lost their neutral status'.

LATEST: Moscow says Switzerland can't represent Kyiv in Russia

Russia said on Thursday that Switzerland has lost its neutral status and cannot represent Ukraine diplomatically in Russia, blaming Bern’s decision to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Switzerland had stated earlier that Ukraine asked Bern to represent it in Russia.

The Swiss foreign ministry said that Ukraine had requested that Switzerland “assume a protecting power mandate” for Kyiv in Russia, confirming a story in the Luzerner Zeitung newspaper.

“The corresponding negotiations have been completed,” a ministry spokeswoman told AFP in an email on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

But the spokeswoman had stressed that “in order for the protecting power mandate to come into force, Russia still has to give its consent” – which the Kremlin didn’t.

Switzerland has lost neutral status’

“Unfortunately, Switzerland has lost the status of a neutral state and cannot act either as a mediator or as a representative of interests,” Russian foreign ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev told reporters.

He confirmed that Bern had asked Russia if it would agree to Switzerland representing the interests of Ukraine in Russia and vice versa.

Nechayev stressed that Switzerland had been supporting the Kyiv government and slapped sanctions on Russia.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which Swiss cities will be most impacted by a gas shortage this winter?

“It is completely incomprehensible how one can offer mediation, representation or other goodwill services with such behaviour,” he added.

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, Switzerland — renowned for its neutrality — has said it stood ready to provide diplomatic assistance and to serve as a go-between.

Moscow has been angered by Bern’s decision to follow the neighbouring European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia.

Switzerland has a long tradition of acting as a protecting power, first playing the role during the Franco Prussian War in 1870-71.The wealthy Alpine country, which has held such mandates hundreds of times
since then, currently represents the diplomatic interests of a range of countries including Russian interests in Georgia and vice versa.