‘We must continue to build neutrality,’ says Swiss President

Cassis, who is also foreign minister, has commissioned a report, due by early autumn, on Switzerland's concept of neutrality. © Keystone - Ats / Ti-press

With debates at home and abroad raging about the country’s neutrality, President Ignazio Cassis has defended the concept. To him, being neutral means cooperating with other states while following Swiss principles.

This content was published on June 25, 2022 - 15:29

Adopting European Union sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine “was a political decision guided by the values enshrined in our Constitution,” Cassis told the newspaper La Liberté in an interview published on Saturday. Russia’s attack was a breach not just of international law, he added, but of the values shared by the Western world.

"We must not rebuild neutrality, but continue to build it," said Cassis, who is also the foreign minister. "It takes decades to build institutions.”

It is not only Switzerland’s response to the war in Ukraine that has prompted soul-searching about what it means to be neutral. The country’s recent election to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2023-2024 has also put the spotlight on the concept.

Cassis, however, stressed that the UN itself is a neutral organisation and explained that Switzerland will play the role of bridge-builder “to bring together the most powerful countries in the world.”

The minister has commissioned a report on the country’s neutrality that is expected to be completed in the autumn.

Cassis also reflected on the much-hyped summit in Geneva a year ago between United States President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The diplomatic effort had not been enough to avoid a conflict, he said. But, he added, “this is not a reason to say that we were wrong to do this work.”

“Today we would have done exactly the same thing.”

Rebuilding in Ukraine

Next month Cassis will host the Ukraine Recovery Conference in the southern city of Lugano that aims to pave the way for reconstruction. According to the Ukrainian honorary consul in Switzerland, Andrej Lushnycky, it is not too early to discuss funding and draw up a road map.

"The conditions are certainly not ideal, but we have to be prepared," the consul said in an interview publishedExternal link in the newspaper Le Temps on Saturday.

Lushnycky conceded that corruption was a lingering problem in Ukraine. But he said leaders will be motivated to make rapid progress on this front given the will for European integration and the solidarity the country is experiencing.

Expressing doubt that President Volodymyr Zelensky would attend the Lugano conference in person, Lushnycky urged Cassis to visit Kyiv instead, to see “the extent of the disaster of the war.”

“You don’t come back unaffected from such a visit.”

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