Since Ukraine's independence in 1991, Switzerland and Ukraine have maintained good diplomatic relations in a variety of areas. President Sommaruga's visit to Ukraine in July 2020 was the first such visit by a President of the Swiss Confederation. Bilateral contacts between the two countries have become even closer with the Ukraine Recovery Conference, which was held in Lugano in 2022.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Switzerland's wide-ranging policy on Ukraine is focused on two main priorities in particular: support for the reform process and efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Prior to Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, Switzerland had been focusing efforts on promoting stability and prosperity through technical cooperation, peace policy, economic cooperation and humanitarian aid. Since Russia's military aggression, Switzerland has stepped up its commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In addition to bilateral relations, the two countries also place a high priority on multilateral cooperation. For example, they work closely together in the Swiss-led voting group in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC2022) in Switzerland
Switzerland and Ukraine decided jointly to change the title and objectives of this year's Ukraine Reform Conference (URC), which has been held every year since 2017. The renamed Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC2022), which took place in Lugano on 4 and 5 July 2022, focused instead on reconstruction in Ukraine against the backdrop of Russia's military aggression, taking place in lieu of the fifth edition of the Reform Conference. The way to rebuild Ukraine is through a broad-based political and diplomatic process, which was launched by Switzerland and Ukraine in Lugano this year. URC2022 participants discussed Ukraine’s Reconstruction Plan, as well as contributions from international partners. The conference concluded with Switzerland, Ukraine and participating partners adopting the Lugano Declaration, which sets out the framework for the political process of recovery. It also lists common benchmarks for the future under the name Lugano Principles.
Up until 24 February 2022, economic ties between Switzerland and Ukraine had been developing very well. The Ukrainian economy was dynamic, attractive and high in potential, attracting large Swiss investments despite the urgent need for reform (in 2020, Switzerland was Ukraine's third most important investor with USD 3.1 billion; in 2021 the trade volume was CHF 831 million).
At the moment, there is a high level of uncertainty regarding the situation in general as well as in terms of economic development. It is therefore very difficult to make any kind of long-term prognosis at this stage. This is also a challenge for Switzerland's private sector, which until now has had a major presence on the Ukrainian market.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
The guiding principles of Switzerland's International Strategy on Education, Research and Innovation (ERI) are the promotion of self-responsibility, excellence and creativity, and the ability to compete and innovate. Adopted by the Federal Council, the strategy creates a permanent basis for the promotion of bottom-up cross-border initiatives launched by Swiss ERI actors.
Researchers can apply for funding for their projects through a range of research funding programmes established by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). One of the SNSF's goals is to promote stronger links between Swiss researchers and the international academic community. The SNSF provides a range of funding mechanisms to this end.
Young researchers who are citizens of Ukraine can apply to the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
Peace and human rights
Against the backdrop of Russia's military aggression, Switzerland is committed to dialogue, protecting the civilian population and combating impunity, as well as respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. To this end it works together with government bodies as well as local and international organisations. Since 24 February, the peace policy programme has been adapted to target different challenges such as supporting local partners in complex matters, for example dealing with the issue of missing persons, and promoting a victim-centred approach to justice.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
The 2020–23 cooperation programme further strengthens Switzerland's engagement in Ukraine. Switzerland is committed to advancing decentralisation and sustainable economic growth in Ukraine. To this end, Switzerland prioritises:
- Peace, protection and democratic institutions
- Sustainable cities
- SMEs and competitiveness
Switzerland's 2020–23 cooperation programme for Ukraine allocates around CHF 108 million to initiatives carried out jointly by the FDFA's Peace and Human Rights Division (PHRD), SDC (Humanitarian Aid and Cooperation with Eastern Europe Departments) and SECO.
Switzerland has earmarked CHF 750,000 for projects aimed at protecting Ukraine's cultural heritage. Projects that provide for the temporary storage and conservation in Switzerland of cultural assets under threat are also being backed. Funds have been allocated to the Swiss Museums Association to support the Swiss museums working to help Ukraine. In addition, Switzerland is providing financial support to international organisations with projects and funds for the protection of endangered cultural heritage in Ukraine. The Swiss foundation Bibliomedia, which works to promote reading, has also received CHF 140,000 to create a collection of books in Ukrainian for Ukrainian speakers living in Switzerland.
Swiss citizens in Ukraine
Prior to Russia's military aggression beginning on 24 February 2022, 258 Swiss citizens were registered as residents of Ukraine.
History of bilateral relations
Contacts between Switzerland and Ukraine date back to tsarist times. Back then, the area known today as Ukraine was a popular destination for Swiss emigrants, who founded the village of Zurichtal (present-day Solote Pole) on the Crimean Peninsula over 200 years ago. A few years later, winegrowers from the French-speaking part of Switzerland established a Swiss settlement in what is now the town of Shabo in the Odesa region. In the late 19th century, confectioners from Graubünden had some of the best-known patisseries and cafes in Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv.
Switzerland recognised Ukraine's independence on 23 December 1991. Almost immediately after, embassies were opened in Bern and Kyiv. In 1993, the Swiss ambassador in Kyiv and the Ukrainian ambassador in Bern were accredited. Switzerland and Ukraine have signed a large number of cooperation agreements in various areas since 1992.