"We should seize the opportunity we have at present"

Guido Beltrani addresses an audience
There is a general sense of inequality and of a lack of opportunity for civic participation in Ukraine," points out Guido Beltrani, director of the Swiss cooperation office in Kyiv. © SDC

Switzerland's neutrality and its dialogue-based approach mean it is well placed to respond to the crisis in Ukraine. Guido Beltrani, director of the Swiss cooperation office in Kyiv, sketches out the broad lines of Switzerland's commitment until 2018. 


There has been a Swiss cooperation office in Ukraine for 15 years. Is it important to Switzerland to continue its engagement in the country? 
The very fact that a country is in crisis makes an engagement there important. In an increasingly interconnected world, crises concern and affect us – even if they are happening far away. And they concern and affect us even more if they are happening in Europe. What is more, Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe after Russia, and therefore a major export market, even if our economic ties are still well below the country's potential. Ukraine is also a key regional actor in the energy sector. So there are many reasons to remain committed.

Switzerland has just adopted the new 2015–2018 cooperation strategy for Ukraine. Did the crisis greatly influence its content?
It's worth mentioning the involvement of two new actors, namely Swiss Humanitarian Aid and the FDFA Human Security Division. But the crisis has a greater influence on the way Switzerland works, for instance regarding the choice of geographical areas of activity, than on the thematic domains of development cooperation. In response to the crisis, Switzerland will step up its presence in the eastern parts of the country affected by the armed conflict. With regard to the fields of activity, we will continue our work in healthcare, energy efficiency and economic development. On the other hand, the fourth field – good governance and decentralisation – will be expanded and will include peace promotion. There are two general goals that are particularly important to us: social cohesion, which must be strengthened to provide a lasting solution to the armed conflict, and promoting equitable development. The Maidan protests of November 2013 did not after all come out of the blue. There is a general sense of inequality and of a lack of opportunity for civic participation in the country.

How, specifically, do you intend to address this problem?
For instance, in supporting decentralisation by creating platforms for dialogue so that all regions of the country can be involved in the decision-making and the changes taking place. In the economic sector, it is important that reforms in the areas of deregulation and quality standards are also discussed in the regions and involve local chambers of commerce, since these reforms will have an influence on the future direction of exports, which currently vary widely from region to region. In the field of healthcare we intend to focus on rural and less developed areas in order that the poorest receive access tobasic medical care. Lastly, we will continue to promote energy efficiency in SMEs and at the municipal level, but incorporating elements of urban planning. This is a good tool for local participation that allows the people to make their needs known. 

How is Switzerland helping victims of the conflict?
Swiss Humanitarian Aid has been providing assistance since 2014 and has already spent CHF 2.5 million in Ukraine, supporting the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN institutions. From 2015 its involvement is more direct and aims at meeting urgent health needs such as the lack of medicines and hospital equipment, and setting up mobile clinics for internally displaced persons who have fled conflict zones. Also envisaged is the reconstruction of water supply infrastructure destroyed by the bombing, and the supply of chemical water purification products. The east of the country has already seen a rise in cases of hepatitis A caused by contaminated water, so urgent action is required there. On 15 May Switzerland sent a convoy carrying 300 tonnes of chemical products to the region for treating drinking water. In addition, we are setting up the distribution of food parcels and materials for rebuilding houses damaged in the armed conflict. There are strict criteria in force to ensure this help goes to the most vulnerable members of society, such as the elderly, large families and one-parent families. Swiss Humanitarian Aid has earmarked CHF 3 million for these initiatives.

The FDFA Human Security Division is a new actor in the 2015–2018 strategy. What is its role?
Its main aim is conflict resolution and peace promotion activity that is consistent with and complementary to initiatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) taken during the Swiss presidency in 2014. The idea here is to find political solutions to the conflict and to promote dialogue at different levels. In this context Switzerland also supports projects aimed at ensuring respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in Ukraine, including Crimea. Reports have already been produced and abuses by all parties to the conflict have been documented. Similarly, support is being given to analysing the Maidan protests and the fire at the trade union building in Odessa that caused many deaths and call for an impartial investigation. Another area of activity planned by the Human Security Division is what we call "dealing with the past", to support Ukraine in a process of analysis of its past and dialogue that includes different perspectives. Historians, representatives of NGOs and Ukrainian parliamentarians will take part in this. 

Crimea and territories controlled by armed groups

Un camion suisse arrive à Donetsk
Swiss convoy to aid civilian population in eastern Ukraine reaches Donetsk, 15 May 2015. © FDFA

Switzerland had to end its development cooperation in Crimea following the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea by Russia in March 2014. There were seven projects underway there. Do you know what has become of them?

Some projects had only just started, so they could be halted relatively easily. One of these was a project for teaching democracy in schools. Others were coming to an end – I'm thinking specifically about a collaboration with hospitals providing clinical care for newborns. The other projects operated on annual cycles and were therefore simply transferred to other regions of Ukraine. These were projects to support social and economic development and to improve water supply in rural communities.


How does Switzerland operate in territories controlled by armed groups?

Swiss and international humanitarian aid provides immediate assistance to all people affected by the conflict, no matter where they are – so including the self-proclaimed republics. And peace promotion activities will, by their very nature, involve actors from both sides of the contact line. On the other hand, there are very limited opportunities at present for providing development aid to these regions. But we will conduct a social cohesion project in the part of the Donbas region controlled by the Ukrainian government in order to build trust between the inhabitants and the local authorities. As part of this, it is planned to work with media on all sides to prevent hate speech.