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Swiss welcome Russia parliament head despite EU-US sanctions

AFP , Monday 19 Feb 2018
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Russia's parliamentary speaker, slapped with US and EU sanctions, will meet the Swiss foreign minister Monday during a visit that Bern said aims to foster "dialogue" on the Ukraine conflict.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the president of Russia's lower house of parliament, or the State Duma, arrived in Switzerland on Sunday and is set to meet a number of top officials, including his Swiss counterpart Dominique de Buman and Switzerland's Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.

The visit has stirred controversy in non-EU member Switzerland, since he is among the Russian officials blacklisted by Washington and Brussels.

But Livia Leu, who is in charge of bilateral relations at the Swiss ministry of economic affairs, told Swiss public broadcaster RTS that Volodin's visit was in line with Switzerland's aspirations to help resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"When it comes to the Ukraine crisis, Switzerland has always encouraged dialogue, because only a political solution can in the end resolve the crisis," Leu said.

"It is with this in mind that Switzerland can provide visas to people on the European Unions (sanctions) list," she said.

Volodin, a long-time top Kremlin official and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, became parliament speaker in 2016, two years after he was added to the

US and EU lists of sanctions against people seen as key players in the Ukraine crisis.

The war in the east of the former Soviet republic broke out in April 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea in March of that year, and has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The Swiss parliament said last week it had issued the invitation to Volodin following a Swiss parliamentary delegation visit to Moscow last year.

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