Swiss envoy says Crimea is ‘calm but tense’

Russian activists guarding Crimea's parliment building in Simferopol, Ukraine Keystone

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s personal envoy to Ukraine, Swiss diplomat Tim Guldimann, has reported back from a two-day trip to the troubled Crimea region, saying it was “a miracle that there has been no bloodshed yet”.

This content was published on March 7, 2014 - 09:01 and agencies

In an OSCE statement on Thursday, he said Crimea was “calm but tense” and commended the Ukrainian authorities for trying to de-escalate the situation. Guldimann was appointed by Switzerland, co-chair of the OSCE in 2014.

Russian troops have effectively taken control of Crimea - whose population is mostly ethnic Russian - following the fall of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.

The crisis has led to a boycott by many foreign dignitaries of the Sochi Winter Paralympics, which open on Friday.

Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset has announced he will not attend for “agenda reasons”.  The country will be represented by Nicolas Bideau, director of Presence Switzerland, the government office responsible for Switzerland’s image abroad.

Guldimann deplored the fact that, while in Crimea, he was not able to secure a meeting with new Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov or the commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. He and the high commissioner of national minorities, Astrid Thors, did hold talks with representatives from the Crimean Parliament as well as from public administration and civil society. The diplomat met the representative of the acting Ukrainian President in Crimea.

United States President Barack Obama has, in a lengthy telephone conversation, urged President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

Referendum concerns

Meanwhile, the European Union and the US have joined Ukraine's government in condemning as "illegal" a move by the Crimea region on Thursday to set up a referendum to endorse joining Russia. The date is set for March 16.

At a news conference in Kiev on Thursday, Guldimann expressed concern that the referendum might stir up new clashes and provocations.

In response to a question concerning whether the OCSE would act as observers at any referendum, the envoy said this would only occur if an invitation came from the affected country. “I think the answer is clear,” he said.

Ukrainians in Switzerland, of which there are around 4,000, have also reacted with concern to the escalating situation in their homeland.

The deputy president of the Ukrainian Society, Orest Fil, told Swiss public television, SRF, that he didn’t see much room for manoeuvre for Russia and Ukraine, as both governments risked losing face if they made any concessions.

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