Herr Professor Kellerhals
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation to make a few opening remarks tonight. Let me first of all welcome you, Mr President, most warmly to my country, to Switzerland – a country of innovation and peace – with eight million people eager to contribute to a world that is more secure for all.
We are meeting here at a critical moment in the evolving Ukraine crisis. As someone who was deeply involved in these issues with the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship team last year, I am inclined to add that we are meeting at yet another critical moment. The fact is that the outlook is not good at the moment.
There is a real risk of renewed large-scale military escalation in the conflict between Kiev and the illegally armed groups that have occupied certain districts in eastern Ukraine. For a country that has already undergone much suffering and turmoil in the past year, to plunge back into war would be a terrible development. It would further add to the misery that the people in the conflict-affected areas have to endure, just as it would diminish the prospects for a political solution, for national reconciliation, and for economic recovery. I therefore call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint, pursue the political path laid out in Minsk, and resolve their differences through dialogue.
The future course of events in Ukraine concerns us all. This crisis is a tragedy, primarily for the Ukrainian people. It has also thrown into question many assumptions about the post-Cold War security order in Europe. The Helsinki Principles have been repeatedly violated, most blatantly when Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia. With trust between Russia and the West collapsing and polarization growing, the Ukraine crisis has evolved into one of the worst crises in the OSCE area since the end of the Cold War.
Ukraine faces enormous challenges. In addition to ending the violent conflict in the east and restoring territorial integrity, these challenges include implementing a broad set of reforms and improving the country’s financial situation. As you, Mr President, have come here to share with us your assessment of the situation and your vision for Ukraine’s future, the main message I wish to convey tonight is this:
Switzerland remains committed. We will continue our engagement to help de-escalate the crisis, build bridges, and promote dialogue. While our role is changing now that we no longer chair the OSCE, Switzerland’s resolve to contribute to a better future for Ukraine and to overcoming the broader crisis of European security remains strong.
This commitment essentially comprises four aspects:
First, Switzerland is maintaining its wide-ranging support for the efforts of the OSCE to defuse the Ukraine crisis. On this and on other issues, we are working closely with Serbia and Germany in the OSCE Troika.
At the request of the Serbian Chairmanship, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini is continuing her essential work in the Trilateral Contact Group. While progress on advancing implementation of the Minsk agreements has been more limited and uneven than we had wanted, we should not forget that such processes do take time to work. We are doing our utmost to support Ambassador Tagliavini.
Switzerland also remains a strong supporter of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine that was set up under our Chairmanship last March. As a result of generous extra funds made available by the Swiss Parliament to strengthen Switzerland’s engagement in Ukraine, Switzerland has become the fifth biggest sponsor of the SMM (CHF 2.9 million). There are currently 12 Swiss monitors on the ground. We will continue to back this mission substantially.
The second part of the Swiss commitment concerns the improvement of the humanitarian situation. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed far too many lives already and is causing enormous suffering. More than one million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere.
In keeping with our humanitarian tradition, Switzerland has contributed to several large-scale multilateral aid programmes. We were the sixth biggest donor of humanitarian aid in Ukraine in the past year.
We will continue to provide humanitarian aid and are currently exploring the possibility of direct involvement of the Swiss aid agency on the ground in this regard. The tragic death of a Swiss ICRC delegate in Donetsk last October has been another painful reminder of the dangers involved in helping people in need in the conflict-affected areas. Switzerland calls upon all actors involved to comply with the obligations of international law and especially with basic humanitarian norms, including ensuring rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors.
The third aspect of Switzerland’s commitment is our long-term bilateral engagement in Ukraine. In March, Switzerland will launch its new Cooperation Strategy for Ukraine. This strategy will extend the long-standing cooperation between our two countries for another four years (2015-2018). We have decided to double the budget for this new period to approximately USD 100 million.
Our new Cooperation Strategy will for the first time include a peacebuilding component. This allows for longer-term bilateral efforts to support de-escalation and a peaceful resolution of the conflict by promoting dialogue, human rights and international humanitarian law. Dialogue, on the international and the national level, remains key to resolve the Ukraine crisis.
Another focal point of our Cooperation Strategy will be decentralization and local governance – another obvious choice given Switzerland’s own experience in such matters. Further themes include support for healthcare reform, for sustainable and efficient energy management, and for making Ukraine more business-friendly.
All these focal points correspond to major reform needs of Ukraine. Switzerland has supported Ukraine’s transformation process ever since our first cooperation agreement was signed in 1997. We remain committed and will strive, together with our Ukrainian colleagues, for sustainable progress.
The fourth and final aspect of Switzerland’s commitment relates to the need to overcome the broader crisis of European security. At the OSCE Ministerial Council in Basel, Switzerland – in close cooperation with our 2015 Troika partners Serbia and Germany – launched a Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project.
This Panel will, inter alia, reflect on how to re-build trust among the OSCE participating States and explore possibilities for reinvigorating cooperative security across the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions. The composition of the Panel was announced last week; there will be 15 panelists, including one from Switzerland (Former Swiss Member of Parliament Barbara Haering) and one from Ukraine (Former First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Oleksandr Chalyi).
Switzerland will support the work of this Panel throughout the year. We will also come up with our own ideas on how to overcome the crisis of European security. One issue we are looking at concerns the nexus between trade issues and European security. Building confidence and facilitating trade links between different economic zones has become an important aspect of stability in Europe.
Let me add that we will continue our efforts to strengthen the OSCE as an anchor of cooperative security in Europe. A stronger OSCE will in itself be an important contribution to reconsolidating European security as a common project.
Ladies and gentlemen
As Chair of the OSCE, Switzerland worked hard to build bridges and foster dialogue and cooperation. While much remains to be done, Switzerland demonstrated that it can contribute to international security in ways that are useful and credible. In the current crisis-ridden environment, we intend to further expand our activities for peace and security.
This includes continuing our broad engagement for a democratic, stable, peaceful, united, and prosperous Ukraine, and for enhanced security and cooperation across the OSCE area. Such engagement is in our interest, and in the interest of our countries, our continent, and our world.