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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Touts Security Pact in Bern

ReutersThe car carrying President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife, Svetlana, being guarded by Swiss security on their arrival in Zurich on Monday.

President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday urged Switzerland, a country that has been neutral for centuries, to actively participate in his proposal to create a new European security pact.

Medvedev spoke after he arrived in Switzerland on a two-day state visit, the first ever by a Russian leader.

Medvedev told Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz at an official welcoming ceremony that his proposal to develop a new European security architecture was at the top of the agenda for his visit.

“We are counting on your participation in the unfolding debate on the main topics of such a security architecture,” he said, Interfax reported.

Medvedev first floated the idea of a new security pact after his election last year, but it has received a lukewarm welcome from European governments concerned that it is an attempt to undermine NATO.

The Swiss president noted that the talks would cover “the situation in the Caucasus and the mandate to represent the interests of Russia,” a nod to the fact that the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi represents Russia’s interests in Georgia and its embassy in Moscow represents Georgia’s interests in Russia.

Russia and Georgia closed their respective embassies after cutting diplomatic ties during the brief war between the two countries in August 2008. Switzerland, which has taken a neutral stance on political and military issues since the 1500s, has traditionally accepted the role of mediator between warring sides.

Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said Medvedev’s trip was the first visit of a Russian leader in the history of Russian-Swiss relations, “including the periods of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation,” Interfax reported.

The visit coincides with the 210th anniversary of a legendary expedition of Russian troops led by General Alexander Suvorov across the Alps in 1799. Medvedev will visit a monument commemorating Suvorov’s passage.

Medvedev with his wife, Svetlana, were welcomed with a solemn ceremony by the Swiss president and his wife at the Zurich airport in the afternoon. Later, they went to Bern for talks, where they oversaw the signing of an agreement easing visa rules for members of official delegations, employees of municipal institutions and businessmen maintaining regular contacts between the two countries.

Ahead of his visit to Switzerland, Medvedev last week presented two baby bears to Bern, a symbol of the capital, Swiss media reported.

On Monday evening, Medvedev met with Russian and Swiss businessmen. On Tuesday, he is to meet International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to discuss preparations for the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.

Late Tuesday, he will leave for the United States, where he will attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York and a G20 summit in Pittsburgh.