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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
Swiss President Ignazio Cassis addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 20, 2022. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

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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POLITICS

Swiss finance minister makes surprise decision to quit

Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, 71, announced he would resign at the end of the year in a surprise move on Friday after more than four decades in politics.

Swiss finance minister makes surprise decision to quit

He is the longest serving member of the Federal Council — Switzerland’s seven-member government — having been a member since January 2009. He has held the finance brief since January 2016 after seven years as the defence minister.

“I have been in politics for more than 40 years, 14 of them in the Federal Council. It is a fascinating task,” Maurer told a hastily arranged press conference.

However, “during the last year, I thought that I still have a lot of energy to do something else”, he said, announcing his resignation.

“I already have plans,” the Zurich father-of-six said, without revealing his intentions, adding that he was leaving “with one eye smiling and one eye crying”.

Maurer served twice as Switzerland’s president — which rotates annually among Federal Council members — in 2013 and 2019.

He chaired the Swiss People’s Party from 1996 to 2008. The right-wing, populist SVP has been Switzerland’s biggest party since 2003.

“Without Ueli Maurer, the SVP would never have become the country’s leading political force,” Le Temps newspaper said.

The Tages-Anzeiger daily said he was “one of the most versatile Swiss politicians of recent decades, unpredictable and agile”.

The election of his successor on the Federal Council is expected to take place on December 7. Ministers are elected by parliament.

The major parties share out the seven seats according to a so-called “magic formula” which has evolved over time.

The SVP, the centre-left Socialist Party and the centre-right Liberals have two ministers each, with the centre-right Centre party allocated one.

The left-wing Green Party hopes to secure a first-ever seat with a strong performance in the 2023 parliamentary elections.

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