The violent repression by the Belarussian authorities against peaceful demonstrations and the corresponding human rights violations following the contested presidential elections of August 9, 2020, is weighing on the bilateral relations between Switzerland and Belarus. On 15 May 2019, the Federal Council decided to upgrade the Swiss representation in Minsk to a fully-fledged embassy.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Belarus
After the strengthening of the bilateral relations in the past years, Switzerland is calling Belarus, in view of the crisis in the country, to respect its human rights obligations and engage in a dialogue with representatives of the opposition. On 12 October 2020, Switzerland adopted the sanctions imposed by the EU on 2 October 2020 against 40 natural persons from Belarus identified as responsible for the use of violence following the disputed elections. The 2019 decision to upgrade the Swiss representation in Minsk was already coupled by a strengthening of the FDFA's commitment in the area of human rights. Switzerland considers that Belarus, with its economic potential, plays an important role in the stability of the region.
Trade potential between the two national economies remains underexploited although exports have risen on both sides in 2018. The basic agreements necessary to extend trade have been concluded, and agreements on trade and economic cooperation, investment, and double taxation are all in place. Switzerland primarily imports precious stones and metals as well as agricultural products from Belarus, and exports machinery, pharmaceutical products, vehicles (cars and aircraft) and base metals. Around 30 companies with a connection to Switzerland are represented in Belarus. Most important by far is Stadler Rail, which has been operating an assembly plant near Minsk since 2014. The factory employs 1,500 people (2020). In 2018, the Swiss–Belarusian joint economic commission held its tenth meeting.
The Belarusian-Swiss Business Council – comprising business people and associations under the lead of the chairperson of Stadler Rail's board of directors – has been holding meetings since 2013, alternating between Switzerland and Belarus each year.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Researchers and artists from Belarus can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
In 2019, the Swiss college Haute Ecole Arc concluded a partnership agreement with Minsk's International University MITSO.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
The SDC and Swiss Humanitarian Aid were active in Belarus from 2001 until 2010. Their work focused on measures to help alleviate the serious consequences of the Chernobyl power plant disaster in 1986. During this period, Switzerland provided CHF 25 million for this work.
Swiss nationals in Belarus
There are 34 Swiss nationals living in Belarus, mainly in Minsk (as of mid-2020).
History of bilateral relations
During the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Belarus declared its independence on 25 August 1991. Switzerland recognised the new state on 23 December of the same year. Between 1992 and January 2018, the Swiss ambassador to Poland was also cross-accredited in Minsk. On 15 May 2019 the Federal Council decided to upgrade the Swiss representation office, which has represented Switzerland in Minsk since 2010, to a full embassy and to accredit a Swiss ambassador to Belarus with residence in Minsk.
The embassy was officially opened in February 2020 during the first working visit to Minsk of a Federal Councilor by Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.Federal Councilor Cassis held bilateral talks with President Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej during his visit.
After diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1992, Belarus opened an embassy in Bern which was managed by a chargé d'affaires. In 2020, Belarus appointed an Ambassador to Switzerland who presented his credentials on 1 September 2020.