The forthcoming official visit to Switzerland by Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, has sparked controversy, Swiss public radio, RTS, reports.
Volodin, who is considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is due to arrive in Switzerland on Sunday for a two-day visit following an invitation extended last year by a Swiss parliamentary delegation to Moscow.
However, the Duma speaker is under both American and European Union sanctions for his role in the 2014 Crimea crisis. He is barred from entering EU territory, and his assets in the 27-country bloc have been frozen.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU and has not imposed such sanctions. But it has bilateral ties with the EU and is part of the Schengen agreement on free movement.
“Russia is trying to use visits to Switzerland mostly for internal propaganda purposes and to show that it is present in the West,” Carlo Sommaruga, a centre-left Social Democrat and member of the Swiss foreign affairs committee, told RTS. “This does not help get Russia to change position on respect of international law.”
But Filippo Lombardi, president of the Switzerland-Russia interparliamentary group, thinks Switzerland is playing its traditional “neutral role”, according to the RTS.
“We have managed to reduce the factors of conflict and bring down the fighting,” he said. “I think that is the role Switzerland should play, and the Swiss parliament should do the same at its own level.”
Volodin was Putin’s first deputy chief of staff from 2011 to 2016. The EU views him as having supervised the integration of Crimea into Russia.
Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since 1954, was annexed by the Russian Federation in early 2014. This was accompanied by a Russian military intervention in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.