Relations between Switzerland and Belarus have expanded steadily in recent years. They were given a boost in 2016, with the almost complete lifting of EU sanctions against Belarus, which Switzerland had supported. On 15 May 2019 the Federal Council decided to upgrade the Swiss representation in Minsk to a full embassy.
On 13 February 2020, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, held bilateral talks with President Aljaksandr Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej. This marks the first official visit of a federal councillor to Belarus and, together with the new Swiss embassy in Minsk, is testament to the excellent bilateral relations between the two countries.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Because of the sanctions imposed on Belarus between 2006 and 2016, its ties with Switzerland were largely undeveloped. The EU sanctions were in response to the failure to respect the rule of law in the presidential elections in Belarus held on 19 March 2006. Switzerland supported these sanctions, which were imposed that year and tightened again in the wake of the 2010 presidential elections. On 31 January 2011 the EU decided to extend the list of persons subject to asset freezes and travel bans, a measure that was also followed by Switzerland. The sanctions were lifted on 1 March 2016, with the exception of continuing measures against four persons.
This development has lent fresh impetus to relations between Switzerland and Belarus, as evidenced by the increase in bilateral meetings on political and economic affairs. Another positive trend in the political ties between the two countries has been the developing relationship between the respective foreign ministries and parliaments. Switzerland also considers Belarus' economic potential and its engagement for stability in the region – particularly since the outbreak of the conflict in eastern Ukraine – as promising. The decision to upgrade the representation in Minsk to a full embassy is linked to the FDFA increasing its human rights activities in Belarus.
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 1,200 people (2019). 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.
Peacebuilding and human security
Switzerland and Belarus's sometimes different interpretations of democracy and human rights in certain areas are discussed during the annual bilateral dialogue between representatives of the two foreign ministries. The subjects discussed at these meetings include the prevention of torture and the abolition of the death penalty. In 2019, the FDFA funded a project to implement the recommendations issued by the UN Human Rights Committee to Belarus. It also supports local initiatives to abolish the death penalty.
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 31 Swiss nationals living in Belarus, mainly in Minsk (as of mid-2019).
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. After diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1992, Belarus opened an embassy in Bern which is currently being managed by a chargé d'affaires.