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UKRAINE

UPDATE: Switzerland preparing to host Zelensky’s first trip since invasion

Swiss officials are preparing to welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first overseas trip since Russia invaded in late February, when he visits the southern canton of Ticino for a conference on Ukrainian reconstruction in July.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. Photo: AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

Zelensky has been invited to the event on July 4th and 5th in Lugano alongside several world leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Swiss media reports the Ukrainian leader looks set to attend the conference, which would make it his first trip abroad since Russia invaded in late February. 

At the World Economic Forum on May 24th, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis confirmed Zelensky has been invited to the conference. 

Swiss broadsheet Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday, May 4th, that Zelensky originally committed to attend the conference before the invasion, but Swiss authorities said in March the Ukrainian President’s attendance was “no longer imaginable”. 

Security services however said on Wednesday they are continuing to operate under the assumption Zelensky will attend the conference, which would be his first overseas visit. 

Zelensky spoke with Swiss President Ignazio Cassis on Saturday and Swiss authorities believe the Ukrainian President is still planning on attending, but has acknowledged he may cancel the visit at short notice depending on the situation in Ukraine. 

Zelensky has previously refused offers to leave Ukraine, saying he would remain in Kyiv as long as the invasion continued. 

What is the conference about?

Initially planned as a conference to discuss reform, organisers in early May said it would focus on security, fundraising and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine. In late May, they confirmed the focus would be on the reconstruction of Ukraine. 

Security Director Norman Gobbi told the Tages Anzeiger “The reform conference has become a donor and reconstruction conference – with completely different dimensions in terms of security policy.”

Gobbi said the conference had grown in importance “especially since in addition to the Ukrainian representatives, heads of state such as Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz are considering attending”. 

“For Lugano, for the canton of Tessin and for Switzerland it is an honour – but a considerable challenge – to host such a conference”. 

40 countries have been invited to the conference. 

Switzerland has thrown its support behind Ukraine since the invasion, joining EU sanctions efforts despite domestic criticism that it amounts to an erosion of the country’s commitment to neutrality. 

READ MORE: Sanctions on Russia – is Switzerland still a neutral nation? 

Cassis has dismissed these concerns, saying “doing nothing in the face of an aggressor is not neutral”. 

Zelensky, who previously met Cassis in October 2021 before their April 30th meeting, has previously said he would consider a Swiss-style form of armed neutrality in order to bring the invasion to an end. 

The southern, Italian-speaking canton of Ticino has come under increasing scrutiny since Russia’s invasion, with speculation in Russian and Swiss media that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mistress, Alina Kabaeva, lives in Ticino, with several of Putin’s children. 

At least two of Putin’s children are believed to have been born in Lugano, with US government officials believing they have spent their time alongside their mother in a Lugano villa and in a luxury compound in the western canton of Geneva. 

Swiss officials have said publicly that Kabaeva has not been issued with a Swiss residency permit, giving rise to media speculation that she is living in the country illegally. 

Kabaeva, a former gymnast who won Olympic gold, made her first appearance since the invasion at a gymnastics event in Moscow in April, where she called upon Russia to support the war efforts. 

In her appearance, Kabaeva said “every family has a war story and we mustn’t forget it”, while linking the current invasion to the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War Two

READ MORE: Pressure building on Switzerland to deport Putin’s mistress

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POLITICS

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Allies of Ukraine meeting in Switzerland were due Tuesday to adopt a declaration spelling out the principles and priorities of rebuilding the war-shattered country, estimated to cost at least $750 billion.

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and businesses have been meeting in the southern Swiss city of Lugano under tight security since Monday, discussing the best path forward for reconstruction, even as Russia’s war continues to rage in Ukraine.

‘A beautiful country’: How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

Speaking on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a long line of government ministers described the massive destruction caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” Zelensky said via video message. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the recovery “is already estimated at $750 billion”. “The key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he said.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it”.

READ MORE: Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The conference, which had been planned before the invasion, had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on recovery.

Shmyhal laid out the government’s phased reconstruction plan, focused first on the immediate needs of those affected by the war, followed by the financing of thousands of longer-term reconstruction projects aimed at making Ukraine European, green and digital.

Those priorities are expected to be reflected in a final Lugano Declaration setting out the general principles defining a framework for rebuilding Ukraine, which should be adopted when the conference wraps up around midday Tuesday.

As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms will also be seen as a condition for any recovery plan decided.

The former Soviet state has long been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International.

In Europe, only Russia and Azerbaijan ranked worse.

The Ukrainians have proposed that allied countries “adopt” specific regions of Ukraine, and lead the recovery there to render it more efficient. Britain has proposed taking on the Kyiv region, while a diplomatic source said France would concentrate on the heavily-hit Chernihiv region.

Total Resistance: The Swiss Cold War manual inspiring Ukraine’s fight against Russia

In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.

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