Swiss president calls for peaceful solution in eastern Ukraine

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga and her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky with flowers for the memorial for two Ukrainian water treatment workers killed by pro-Russian separatists during artillery bombing in 2014 Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga has lent her support to the peace process in eastern Ukraine during a visit to Kiev – the first ever visit by a Swiss president to the country.

This content was published on July 23, 2020 - 15:40 with AFP/Keystone-SDA/sb, ug, sm

“We support a peaceful solution in eastern Ukraine, this is a priority of our peace policy,” said Sommaruga during a joint press conference with her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday.

The Swiss president arrived in Ukraine on Monday for a three-day visit.External link The two heads of state traveled together on Thursday to Ukraine’s war-torn eastern Donbass region.

The war in the east of the country has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced about 1.5 million people over the past six years.

Switzerland is continuing its humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, with which it established diplomatic relations upon its independence in 1991.

“Switzerland welcomes the release of prisoners during the past few months,” Sommaruga added, referring to detainees exchanged between Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists.

Her three-day trip to Ukraine comes after a visit to Russia by the Swiss president last year. Ueli Maurer travelled to Moscow in November, holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin notably about the situation in Ukraine and the role of neutral Switzerland in the region.  

Mediation and supplies

Peace agreements signed in Minsk in 2015 have greatly reduced violence, but the political process has stalled. Kiev and Western nations accuse Russia of providing military support for the rebels, something which Moscow denies.

Negotiations within the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) have been led since January by Swiss ambassador Heidi Grau in her position as OSCE Special Representative.

On Thursday, Sommaruga visited the Voda Donbasu water treatment facility partly funded by Switzerland. It provides water to nearly four million people on both sides of the contact line. She will also view a crossing for civilians on the contact line.

On behalf of Switzerland, she brought humanitarian aid supplies, including chemicals used for water treatment. It was the 12th Swiss humanitarian delivery to eastern Ukraine since 2015.

“The people of Donbass (eastern Ukraine) are suffering doubly: from the corona crisis and the conflict,” Sommaruga wrote on Twitter. “Switzerland is helping to alleviate the suffering.” On the third day of her visit, Sommaruga viewed a crossing for civilians on the contact line and had talks with local authorities and experts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga review the guard of honour during their meeting at the Mariinskiy Palace in Kiev on Tuesday Keystone / Sergey Dolzhenko

On Tuesday, the two presidents signed a number of bilateral agreements, including a cooperation agreement to support the reform process in Ukraine that runs until 2023.

Switzerland is an active supporter of Ukraine’s development and the strengthening of its institutions, and the Alpine nation launched a cooperation programme this spring for the 2020–2023 period. Switzerland is Ukraine’s fifth largest donor, and also ranks fifth in terms of private investment.

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