The Volga Group, owned by Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, was among the companies that sponsored the three days of festivities leading to the inauguration of the new Swiss embassy building in Moscow.
Timchenko, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, contributed an unknown amount to the June 18 inauguration ceremony. In total, sponsors including Volga group and Swiss-based firms like Philip Morris, Glencore, ABB, Sika, UBS, Zurich Insurance, Roche, Nestlé, Stadler and Victorinox contributed CHF555,000 ($565,221) of the CHF700,000 bill for the event.
The Swiss foreign ministry defended the financial contributions. It stated that Timchenko is committed to relations between the European Union and Russia and that he has been awarded the French Legion of Honour for his contributions to culture. His cultural foundation also finances various projects in Switzerland.
In general, sponsorship of events in Swiss embassies is "not a new phenomenon", said the ministry. This practice helps to strengthen the Swiss economy abroad and, conversely, encourages investment in Switzerland. This is part of the tasks of embassies.
The inauguration of the new Swiss embassy building took place in the presence of Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and 800 guests. The CHF42 million building brings houses the diplomatic and consular representation, the Swiss Business Hub (business promotion), Pro Helvetia (culture promotion), Switzerland Tourism and the ambassador's residence.