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Can Geneva still claim to be the 'capital of peace'?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can Geneva still claim to be the 'capital of peace'?
United Nations headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Pixabay

The Swiss city has traditionally been a space for diplomacy and international relations. But does Geneva still merit this title?


Geneva has been the scene of numerous negotiations and agreements since the end of World War Two.

According to the United Nations, the city’s “humanitarian tradition, strategic location in a neutral country, and political stability make it an obvious choice to host a variety of diplomatic meetings".

These are just some of the top-level meetings held in Geneva in the past decades, which have earned it the nickname of the "capital of peace":

1985: After a long stretch of Cold War, former US President Ronald Reagan met and (shook hands) with USSR leader Mikhaïl Gorbachev 

1994: The then US president Bill Clinton met former president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad
2009: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov
2013: Iranian nuclear negotiations
2021: Summit between US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putinshakes hands with US President Joe Biden prior to their meeting in Geneva. Photo: Denis Balibouse/AFP

You can see all the other major meetings in Geneva here

However, since Biden met Putin in May 2021, no major meetings have been held in Geneva – either regularly or consistently.

Why is that?

Russia’s interference
Blame it on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After that event in February 2022, Switzerland's image took a beating in Putin’s eyes.

That’s because the country froze the assets of Russian oligarchs held in Swiss banks, closed its airspace to Russian airlines, and generally followed all of EU sanctions against Kremlin.

Because of these actions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described Switzerland as an "openly hostile country".

As for the Russia’ ambassador to Bern, Sergey Garmonin, he said that Switzerland “has lost its credibility as an impartial international platform and cannot be regarded a mediator in addressing the crisis in Ukraine”, according to Russia’ official news agency, TASS.

In fact, due to Switzerland’s stance on Russia, Putin "reciprocated" by pressuring his ally, Syria, to suspend its peace talks that have been held in Geneva since 2016.


Is Switzerland’s role as the hub of international diplomacy really doomed?

Not quite yet.

On June 15th and 16th, the country will host a high-level peace conference for Ukraine at the Burgenstock resort near Lucerne.

High-level officials from dozens of countries will attend, though Russia already said it would not participate in the summit.

READ ALSO: Switzerland to host Ukraine peace conference without Russian involvement 

What about Geneva – will it be able to maintain its diplomatic role?

Russia’s interference has undoubtedly inflicted some damage, as evidenced by its stance on Switzerland in general, and its pressure toward Syrian peace talks in particular.

However, given that Geneva has been "at it" for many decades, and successfully so, it is too early to count it out as the world’s "peace capital".



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