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.
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”.