Going from strength to strength — Russian-Swiss Relations: A Tale of Success

Speech by Federal Councilor Christoph Blocher at the Russian Economic and Financial Forum, Zurich, March 18, 2007

Speeches, FDJP, 18.03.2007. Both the spoken and the written word are equally valid. The speaker reserves the right to deviate − even considerably − from the manuscript!

Zurich. In his opening speech at the Russian Economic and Financial Forum, Federal Councilor Christoph Blocher acknowledged the increasing trade relations between Russia and Switzerland, stressing the need to streamline these relations in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Only ten years ago, the West considered Russia ripe for bankruptcy. Today, Russia has once again risen to become a world power.

This recovery is due not only to the drastic changes in Russia’s domestic policy, but also to its significant role as an energy supplier.

A world power revived

A few noteworthy points:

  • Russia is currently the second biggest oil-exporting country, exceeded only by Saudi Arabia.
  • Russia has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.
  • Russia’s economy has grown by an average of over six percent each year since 1999.

In 2001, Switzerland exported 108 billion U.S. dollars’ worth of goods and services. Switzerland ranked seventeenth among the world’s top exporters at that time.

In the same year, Russia’s exports amounted to 103 billion U.S. dollars. The Big Bear was second to Switzerland—at least in terms of exports.

The year 2005 looked quite different, however: While Switzerland’s exports climbed from 108 to 151 billion U.S. dollars, Russia topped Switzerland with exports worth 243 billion U.S. dollars!

One may argue that these figures are slightly overstated; after all, the oil price has doubled. But critics fail to see one important point: 243 billion U.S. dollars in exports is just what it is: 243 billion U.S. dollars. And these billions are just waiting to be invested.

Fast-growing trade relations

Today, with 250 billion U.S. dollars in foreign currency and gold reserves, Russia’s treasury is full to bursting. Again, this money is waiting to be invested − in domestic infrastructures, in foreign business or financial investments.

It comes as no surprise, then, that trade between Russia and Switzerland is rapidly increasing. No less satisfying is the fact that the overall investment level is also increasing in both countries.

This is why economic relations between the two countries must be simplified. To this end, Russia and Switzerland have agreed to enter into free trade talks.


But commerce, ladies and gentlemen, is one thing. In my capacity as justice minister, I am in particular responsible for immigration matters. And, indeed, Russia and Switzerland have shared a long migration history. It reaches back far beyond the Soviet Union era.

Starting in the fifteenth century, many Swiss architects and soldiers emigrated to Russia. Domenico Trezzini, for example, was one of the most prominent Swiss architects in Russia. It was Trezzini who drafted the plans of the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg.

From the eighteenth century, more and more scientists went to live in Russia. Among them was the mathematician Leonard Euler. He was appointed to the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg.

But there was also a flow of people toward Switzerland. Beginning around the turn of the twentieth century, many young people came to Switzerland to study. Young women especially came in great numbers because in those times they were not permitted to study in Russia.

In the 1911 winter semester, the faculty of medicine at Geneva University counted 659 students. Among them were 408 Russians. Seventy-five percent of them were female Russian students. Also enrolled were 73 Bulgarians and as few as 88 Swiss students.

As chance would have it, we are convened in Zurich, where Lenin spent some time too. Not long ago, a Russian minister said to me, "Had Lenin not been granted asylum in Switzerland, there would have been no revolution." I did as nations do, and shifted the responsibility, replying, "Blame the Germans. They made his return possible in the first place."

Arguably, it would have been to the benefit of everyone, had Lenin stayed in the city of Zurich and led a quiet life until the end of his days.

A New Agreement

Today, the migration situation has changed. New regulations are underway, and agreements on migration are in the planning. In Switzerland, for example, the new Foreign Nationals Act becomes effective in 2008. Under the new legislation, Russian citizens who wish to work in Switzerland will need a work permit. Whether such a permit is granted depends mainly on two factors: firstly, it must be in the interest of the national economy. And, secondly, foreigners must have long-term employment prospects.

Switzerland and Russia also envisage an agreement on visa facilitation for short stays of up to ninety days, similar to the agreement Russia has concluded with the European Union.

For example, the members of delegations coming to Switzerland to participate in meetings or to conduct official negotiations would benefit from the facilitated visa regime. What is more, business people like you in particular will profit from such an agreement.

And there is more good news! Switzerland will soon belong to the Schengen area, which means that Russian citizens will no longer have to apply twice for a visa to Europe. This means that it will be even easier for you to travel to Switzerland—be it on business or for pleasure.

So, as you see, economic and human relations between our two countries are going from strength to strength.

Ladies and Gentlemen; let each one of us ensure that we continue to foster and strengthen this good relationship between our two countries.

Thank you.

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