On 15 May 2019, the Federal Council had decided to upgrade the Swiss representation in Minsk to an embassy in order to intensify bilateral relations. However, the systematic and serious human rights violations in the aftermath of the contested presidential elections of 9 August 2020 have been weighing on the bilateral relations between Switzerland and Belarus. Relations have also been strained by Belarus's decision to allow Russia to use its territory for the aggression on Ukraine from 24 February 2022.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Following the strengthening of bilateral relations in recent years, Switzerland calls on Belarus to comply with its human rights obligations and to engage in dialogue with the political opposition in view of the crisis in the country. On 12 October 2020, Switzerland adopted the sanctions imposed by the EU against Belarus. Switzerland has also adopted the EU's sanctions imposed because of Belarus' complicity shared responsibility infor the attack aggression on against Ukraine. The 2019 decision to upgrade the Swiss representation in Minsk was already linked to an increase in the FDFA's human rights work.
Trade between the two countries has still not achieved potential levels. Due to the sanctions, cumulative foreign trade declined slightly in 2021. The core agreements needed to develop trade have been concluded; agreements on trade and economic cooperation, investment, and double taxation are all in force. Between 2020 and 2022, Switzerland extended its sanctions against Belarus several times.
Between 2017 and 2021, trade volume ranged from CHF 100 to 200 million. Switzerland exports mainly chemical and pharmaceutical products, machinery, metals and vehicles to Belarus and imports vehicles, precious metals, agricultural and forestry products and machinery from Belarus (2021). 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 currently employs around 800 people (as of June 2022).
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Young researchers who are citizens offrom Belarus can apply to the State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships. At present, no art scholarships are being awarded.
In 2019, the Swiss college Haute Ecole Arc concluded a partnership agreement with Minsk's International University MITSO.
Peace and human rights
Switzerland has been clearly expressing its position on the critical human rights situation in Belarus at all levels, both bilaterally and within the framework of the UN and the OSCE. The FDFA also supports civil society organisations working to improve the human rights situation in Belarus (torture, human rights defenders, accountability).
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
As of mid-2022, there were 40 Swiss nationals living in Belarus, mainly in Minsk.
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.
Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, made the first working visit of a federal councillor to Minsk in February 2020. He took this visit as the occasion to officially open the embassy. During his stay, Cassis held bilateral talks with President Alexander Lukashenko and Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei.
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 from 2008 to 2020. In 2020, Belarus appointed an ambassador to Switzerland, who presented his credentials on 1 September 2020.