Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has opened a Swiss embassy in the Belarusian capital Minsk. The government decided to upgrade the existing office last May.
The decision was “testament to the deepening of cooperation between the two countries”, the foreign ministry said in a statementexternal link.
This first official visit of a cabinet minister to Belarus focused on stepping up bilateral relations, strengthening human rights and discussing the situation in the region, in particular the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the ministry said.
Before the official opening of the embassy on Thursday, Cassis met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej for bilateral talks.
Cassis said Switzerland welcomed the close cooperation with Belarus on human rights and was keen to pursue it further.
“It is important to make concrete progress in this respect,” he said during his meeting with President Lukashenko. Cassis referred in particular to working together on the prevention of torture: “fruitful discussions” among experts on this topic from the two countries had taken place in Bern and Geneva last autumn, according to the foreign ministry.
Relations between Switzerland and Belarus have gained momentum since the European Union and Switzerland largely lifted sanctions against Belarus in 2016.
In 2019 the volume of trade between the two countries amounted to CHF194 million ($198 million) – an increase of over 50% on the previous year.
With the new embassy in Minsk, the Swiss network of foreign offices now comprises 103 embassies. The upgrading has no financial or personnel consequences, the foreign ministry said.