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UKRAINE

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
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen as he delivers a statement at the start of a two-day International conference on reconstruction of Ukraine, in Lugano on July 4, 2022. - Ministers from dozens of countries and organisations leadrers gathered in Switzerland Monday to hash out a "Marshall Plan" to rebuild the war-torn country. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

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.

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POLITICS

Swiss president under fire for handshake photo with Russia’s Lavrov

While attending the opening week of the 77th UN General Assembly in New York this week, Switzerland’s president Ignazio Cassis was photographed shaking hands with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Swiss president under fire for handshake photo with Russia's Lavrov

Though Cassis announced beforehand that he would address “President Putin’s recent provocations” and that he would “condemn the nuclear threat”, Russia used the photo for its own propaganda purposes, with Lavrov publishing the picture of the two smiling diplomats in his tweet.

Cassis quickly reacted with his own post, explaining that his meeting with Lavrov was for a good cause.

“I called on Russia to refrain from organizing so-called referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Switzerland is also very concerned about the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. Neutrality and good offices remain our instruments of dialogue”.

However, some in Switzerland and elsewhere have not accepted this response.

While the Foreign Ministry said “it sees no problem” with this photo, Swiss media Blick noted that “no head of state or minister of a Western democracy has allowed himself to be represented with Sergei Lavrov in such a posture”.

“This image would reflect an apparent normality in relations between the two countries, while Switzerland is still one of the countries hostile to Russia”.

It added, however, that Cassis might have had a noble motive in shaking Lavrov’s hand.

“In the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s announcement to mobilise the reserve troops of the Russian army against Ukraine, this somewhat tense grip is more due to the contingencies of diplomacy than to a reconciliation”.

Others were less understanding of Cassis’ action.

“Our President is shaking hands with a war criminal… I can’t believe it”, said Bernhard Guhl, former national adviser to the Center party.

For Thierry Burkart, president of the Liberal party, “it’s unfortunate that this photo exists. But sometimes you just can’t avoid it…”

As for other social media users, one commented that Cassis “looks proud standing next to a genocide instigator… ashamed of my government”.
 

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