Exclusive: Moscow Accuses Swiss Diplomats of “Blackmail,” and Says It Will “Closely Monitor Anti-Russian Tendencies in Switzerland’s Actions as a Host Country for Many UN Organizations”

The Russian Federation’s criticism of Switzerland is not new—it has been a constant feature ever since Bern decided to adopt the EU’s sanctions of Russia following the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But the latest attack on the Swiss Government’s policy—and the form it takes—has left some diplomatic observers in Geneva puzzled.

It began with a statement on October 7, 2023, by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova. Asked to comment on the unpublished draft of Swiss Foreign Policy Strategy for 2024-2027, Zakharova answered that the Kremlin considers the document to be “blatantly anti-Russian,” according to a translation provided to The G|O by the Russian Mission in Geneva. “The Swiss authorities,” she continued, “are in favor of ensuring security on the European continent[,] not together with Russia, but apart from it. […] We believe that the Swiss Foreign Policy [Strategy] unambiguously shows that Bern is moving towards the short-sighted policy of the ‘collective West.’”

But the Kremlin chose not to leave it at that: On October 11, posted on the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry website, Russian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Gennady Gatilov offered a “Perspective from Geneva” on “Switzerland’s neutrality:” “Official Bern, although unfortunately, has lost its status of neutral player in the global political arena,” the Geneva-based Ambassador writes, before zooming in on International Geneva and asking, “How has Switzerland’s departure from its long-standing traditions affected International Geneva? Have the stances of this once neutral country and its activities within international organizations changed?” 

The senior Russian diplomat, widely credited with having the ears of both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, answers his own question by revisiting selected statements made by members of the Swiss Federal Council and Swiss diplomats. In 2002, for instance, when Switzerland joined the UN, Gatilov writes, former Swiss President Kaspar Villiger offered his written assurances to Kofi Annan that the Swiss authorities “are responsible for taking the necessary measures to preserve Switzerland’s neutrality.” But, Gatilov continues, “since the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine in 2022, Switzerland [has been] consistent in joining every EU sanctions package imposed on Russia. In certain cases, it even outshone some of its partners,” the senior diplomat laments—an approach, he claims, that has had a negative impact on the workings of International Geneva.

Besides complaints about deliberations at the UN Security Council over an extension of the cross-border mechanism to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria after the 2023 earthquake, or menial gripes about administrative matters, Gennady Gatilov reserves his most strident criticism for the work of the Swiss diplomats at the Human Rights Council. Russia, the Ambassador writes, was among the initiators and co-authors of the “Business and Human Rights” resolution presented at the Council. But after Switzerland assumed the presidency of the Core Group, Gatilov claims, Swiss diplomats demanded that Russia withdraw from its co-authorship because of a “difficult geo-political situation.” Faced with Russia’s refusal to abandon its co-authorship, “Bern resorted to outright blackmail,” the Russian diplomat asserts, saying “its representatives would not sit at the same table as the Russian delegation,” and eventually announcing their refusal to work on the document. 

Asked by The G|O for its reaction to Ambassador Gatilov’s accusations, the Swiss UN Mission in Geneva told us by email that:

“Switzerland attaches great importance to the ‘Business and Human Rights’ resolution, which should have been presented by a group of countries comprising Argentina, Ghana, the Russian Federation, Switzerland and Thailand.
- Russia's participation in this group met with strong resistance from certain countries.
- We pleaded for Russia not to be excluded from the group, and for a solution acceptable to all to be found.
- In its contacts with the Russian delegation, Switzerland made repeated efforts to find a constructive solution.
- Russia did not accept any of the proposals put forward.
- Switzerland therefore withdrew from the group.
- The resolution was finally presented by Argentina.” 

Why would the Russian Federation decide to renew its criticism of Switzerland at this point? “We do not speculate about the motivations of other states,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry told The G|O in its answer.

Through a spokesperson, the Russian Mission told us that Moscow had decided to conduct a review of changes in Switzerland’s actions in international venues. The conclusion of Ambassador Gatilov’s post contains a vague threat:

“Switzerland’s departure from its neutral policies obviously doesn’t allow Geneva to comprehensively fulfill its functions as one of the UN capitals. We will continue to closely monitor anti-Russian tendencies in Switzerland’s actions as a host country for many UN organizations. If new obstacles arise, we will draw appropriate conclusions. If necessary, we will demand that certain international events be moved to other venues, more acceptable to all participants.”


©The Geneva Observer, 2023.