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Swiss and Russians talk trade and cooperation

Russian President Putin (left) met Swiss President Calmy-Rey for talks

(Keystone)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed growing trade ties with Switzerland during a visit to the capital, Moscow, by his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Calmy-Rey also held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after which they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on deepening relations between the two countries.

Concluding her two-day visit on Friday, Calmy-Rey – who is also the Swiss foreign minister - said she was "very satisfied" with the discussions and described the atmosphere as "open and constructive".

"We have very good relations nowadays now that the problems that we used to have are resolved," she said.

Issues that have caused strains in relations include the 2002 Überlingen air crash in Swiss-controlled airspace which killed 71 people, mostly Russian children.

A Russian was later jailed in Switzerland for killing an air traffic controller he blamed for the death of his family in the accident. The Swiss Federal Court on Thursday ordered his release.

The refusal of the Swiss authorities to grant judicial assistance for legal actions linked to the Yukos affair and the arrest of Russian ex-nuclear energy minister Yevgeny Adamov - later extradited to Moscow - have also stretched the relationship.

However, both countries indicated during Calmy-Rey's visit that they wanted to increase cooperation - particularly in economic, research and migration issues as well as in humanitarian and environmental affairs.

The Swiss ambassador to Moscow, Erwin Hofer, said that Russia and Switzerland had already been working together closely for several years. "The working visit is the political support for this work," he said.

Trade boost

Trade is one key area for both countries. Speaking after their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin praised trade ties and booming Swiss investment in Russia. He added that he hoped that Russian investors would have the same opportunities in Switzerland.

The Swiss foreign ministry has already said that it believes there is still room for further expansion in trade and economic relations with Russia.

Around 150 Swiss companies are active in Russia and Geneva is a major centre for Russian oil companies.

Russia also belongs to the so-called BRIC group – Brazil, Russia, India and China – which were designated economic priority countries by the Swiss government earlier this year.

Calmy-Rey said she believed that there could be "interesting cooperation" between the two non-European Union countries.

"Constructive" talks

For his part, Lavrov told reporters – at a media conference in which only two questions were allowed and only from the Swiss press - that he and Calmy-Rey had experienced very constructive talks.

Calmy-Rey remained diplomatic in her comments to the Swiss media. "These talks have resulted in our decision to strengthen and widen our bilateral relations and to give them a better structure," she told swissinfo.

The president said she had already suggested in 2005 that Switzerland should not only concentrate on building relations with the EU but also with "our most important partners".

"The daily lives of the Swiss are dependent on these international relations," said Calmy-Rey, who earlier this week had visited India.

Officials are hoping that the Memorandum signed on Friday is not the only such development with Russia. Also on the cards is an agreement on easing visa and readmission regulations.

Ambassador Hofer is hoping that a signature could be forthcoming "in the next months".

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub in Moscow and agencies

Key facts

Switzerland:
Population: 7.5 million
Area: 41,284 sq km
Gross National Income per capita: $54,930

Russia:
Population: 143.8 million
Area: 17 million sq km
GNI per capita: $4,460

end of infobox

Russian relations

Contacts were established in the 18th century. In the 19th century Russia was one of the guarantee powers for permanent Swiss neutrality, making a significant contribution to the formulation of the Swiss political system. One famous Russian emigrant to live in Switzerland last century was Lenin.

Switzerland opened a consulate in St Petersburg in 1816, upgrading to a legation 90 years later. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1923 when Russia was going through a period of revolutionary turmoil. They were resumed in 1946.

Since the end of the Cold War contacts have become closer in the political, economic and scientific fields. Switzerland is one of the most important foreign investors in Russia.

end of infobox


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