Switzerland has joined other member states of the Council of Europe in opposing calls to exclude Russia from the organisation because of human rights violations in Chechnya. The Swiss government said it would be more constructive to engage in dialogue.
Foreign ministers from the Council's member countries were responding to a call by the organisation's parliamentary assembly to initiate steps to expel Russia because of its record in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Switzerland was represented at the meeting in Strasbourg on Thursday by the state secretary in the foreign ministry, Franz von Daeniken. He said Berne felt Moscow was making progress, albeit belatedly. Von Daeniken said he had been encouraged by what he had heard from the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, during informal talks on Wednesday.
"Ivanov gave a broad outline of what will be the policy of Russia with regard to Chechnya. It was the first time that I heard that there is now a bill in preparation to install a provisional government for Chechnya and to hold elections within two years in Chechnya," he said.
He added that Russia had also complied with another long-standing demand of the Swiss government.
"No later than Wednesday, Ivanov signed a letter to the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, to allow the ICRC to go to Chechnya and have a right to visit prisoners," he said.
No country has ever been suspended from the Council of Europe in its 51 year history, and the strength of feeling reflected in the assembly's vote in April came as a surprise.
Parliamentarians, including most of the Swiss representatives, voted to suspend the Russian delegation's right to vote and called on government ministers from member countries to initiate a total suspension of Russia unless it halted human rights violations in the rebel region.
Von Daeniken said the ministers shared the assembly's concerns, but disagreed as to the best way of securing Russia's compliance. He rejected the notion that the ministers' decision could lead other member states to conclude they had nothing to fear from the Council of Europe.
by Malcolm Shearmur