The visit to Switzerland this week by a prominent Russian politician – who is banned by European Union sanctions from travelling to Schengen countries – has been defended despite drawing criticism.
Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, was invited to the Swiss capital Bern to speak at a political conference on the subject of terrorism. She used to occasion to defend Russia’s intervention in Syria.
Marc Lindt, who is on the board of the Ukranian Association of Switzerland, told Swiss public television SRF that it was “questionable” whether Matviyenko should have been given special leave to come to Switzerland to spread Russian “propaganda”.
Because Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, it is obliged to enforce travel restrictions. But the Swiss authorities gave permission for Matviyenko to travel to Bern for the Presidents of Europe’s Senatesexternal link annual meeting.
The forum focused on the “importance of parliaments in the fight against international terrorism”.
Return to Middle Ages
Matviyenko told the meeting that Russia’s intervention in Syria was in accordance with international law and had served to fight against terrorism. She also said it was for the Syrian people to decide on their leadership, despite Western calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
The leader of Switzerland’s Senate, Raphael Comte, defended the decision to allow Matviyenko to come to Switzerland. He met with his Russian counterpart on the fringes of the meeting (held on Thursday and Friday) to talk about the situation in both Syria and Ukraine.
He told SRF that it was Switzerland’s traditional role to seek talks with other countries in an attempt to resolve conflicts. Meetings between politicians - rather than government ministers - often allow more flexibility to openly state positions, he argued.
Matviyenko criticised the travel ban in an interview with SRF’s Tagesschau programme. “To impose sanctions on members of parliament, who are elected by the people, is totally against the spirit of parliamentarianism,” she said. “This behaviour belongs to the Middle Ages.”
swissinfo.ch with agencies