Russia greatly appreciates Switzerland's mediation in the Georgia conflict, the Russian ambassador to Bern tells swissinfo.ch.
Igor Bratchikov explained Swiss-Russian relations ahead of a visit by President Dmitri Medvedev, the first-ever official visit by a Russian leader.
swissinfo.ch: 2009 is an important year for Swiss-Russian relations. It began in May when Russia won the Ice Hockey World Championship in Bern – as in 1990. Does Switzerland bring Russia luck?
Igor Bratchikov: I would like to propose that the Ice Hockey World Championship is in future only ever held in Bern...
No, seriously, it was obviously a great event in May. But I also hope that the Swiss think about what Russia has contributed to Swiss fortunes. In 1815 Russia pressed at the Vienna Congress for Swiss neutrality and independence. And the victory by Russia and the Allies 64 years ago against Nazi Germany enabled Switzerland to maintain these basic values.
swissinfo.ch: What is the aim of President Medvedev's visit?
I.B.: It's the first visit of a Russian head of state ever – no tsar, General Secretary of the Communist Party or president has visited Switzerland on an official bilateral basis.
The visit has two aims: first of all it should highlight the excellent relations between the two countries – relations which are based on equality and mutual respect and which are developing in a very dynamic way. Second, it should give a new boost to future relations.
swissinfo.ch: Medvedev will also pay a visit to the Suvorov monument in the central canton of Uri, which commemorates the Russian general's alpine campaign of 1799. What explains Suvorov's enduring symbolic value in Russia?
I.B.: Suvorov is the most important figure in Russian military history. He's been very popular in Russia for 200 years.
He didn't lose a single battle in his entire career, but more importantly he was a commander who was very close to the people and who greatly valued the life of his soldiers. He was also very humane with his defeated enemies. We are grateful that people in the region where he crossed the Alps have kept his memory alive.
swissinfo.ch: Switzerland currently represents Georgian interests in Russia and Moscow in Tbilisi. How important is this role for Russia?
I.B.: The Russian Federation is very satisfied with Switzerland's role in Tbilisi. We greatly appreciate Swiss experience concerning diplomacy in general. We consider Switzerland a leading diplomatic country.
swissinfo.ch: Turning to human rights, several Russian human rights activists and journalists have been murdered in still unexplained circumstances. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has protested against these crimes and criticised the tardy investigation. Have Bern's appeals been taken seriously?
I.B.: Of course Moscow takes these cases seriously – but not because of foreign criticism. The Russian people, government and the president consider this issue as a challenge for the Russian state. I disagree that no progress is being made.
swissinfo.ch: What can giant Russia and little Switzerland learn from each other?
I.B.: Our bilateral relations show that a large country and a small country can negotiate on an equal footing and thus mutually understand the positions better.
At an international level we currently have no, or hardly any, differences – either in the United Nations or in Europe.
swissinfo.ch: Switzerland is proud of its values such as freedom, democracy and independence...
I.B.: ...and federalism!
swissinfo.ch: Quite. The Russian embassy's calendar includes as Russian values honesty, confidentiality and commitment to performance. Do we share these?
I.B.: Definitely! And we'll add many more common terms in next year's calendar! Federalism also belongs to our values and there the experience of Switzerland is very important.
swissinfo.ch: In March cabinet minister Pascal Couchepin signed a cultural accord in Moscow. How important is culture in the two countries' relationship?
I.B.: It is one of the most important pillars of our bilateral relations – and has been for centuries. Architects such as Trezzini and Le Corbusier, writers such as Frisch and Dürrenmatt, the mathematician Euler and reformists such as Zwingli and Calvin are known by every culturally educated Russian.
I hope the inverse is true in Switzerland for Karamzin, Pushkin, Tolstoy and so on. Recently a plaque was unveiled in Lucerne in memory of Tolstoy because he wrote a short novel called Lucerne after visiting the beautiful city.
When you consider how many Russian artists are currently in Swiss orchestras or on Swiss stages, you could say that we're so closely intertwined that we can't be culturally separated.
Renat Künzi and Peter Schibli, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from German by Thomas Stephens)
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is due to make a state visit to Switzerland on September 21 and 22.
He is scheduled to meet all seven members of the Swiss cabinet.
His agenda also includes meetings with representatives of Swiss business.
In addition, he will pay a visit to the Suvorov monument near Andermatt in the central canton of Uri, which commemorates the Alpine campaign of the Russian general in 1799.
Regular contacts between Russia and Switzerland go back to the 18th century. Numerous Swiss worked in Russia, among other things as scholars and architects, while many Russians visited Switzerland.
In the 19th century Russia was one of the great powers which guaranteed Swiss neutrality.
In the 19th and early 20th century Switzerland attracted Russian artists, students and dissidents, including Lenin who spent several years of his European exile in different Swiss cities.
Following the Russian revolution of 1917, Switzerland broke off diplomatic relations the next year, and they were only restored in 1946.
In the 1990s and the end of the Cold War, relations were quickly stepped up, not only on the political and economic level, but also in science and culture.
Russia is one of Switzerland's major trading partners, and Switzerland is one of the leading foreign investors in Russia.
Swtizerland has been providing technical and financial support and humanitarian aid to Russia for ten years, particularly in the northern Caucasus.
In the wake of the Russia-Georgia war of 2008, Switzerland has represented Russia's diplomatic interests in Georgia and Georgia's interests in Russia.
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