The two countries have wrapped up negotiations on a mandate for Switzerland to represent Ukrainian interests in Russia. Moscow is however reluctant.

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed on Wednesday a report by the Luzerner Zeitung newspaper, which said the contours of a protecting power mandate had by now been worked out.

While the details of the agreement are secret, the primary objective would be to ensure that Ukrainians living in Russia could benefit from consular services provided by the Swiss Embassy in Moscow, public broadcaster RTS writes.

Such a mandate, which has been mooted since the Russian invasion in February, would fit into the Swiss tradition – as a neutral country – of acting as diplomatic go-between when states partially or fully break off relations.

However, in order for it to enter into force, Russia would first have to agree, the foreign ministry said.

This looks “unlikely”, RTS writes: the Russian embassy in Bern told the broadcaster it had not received a formal request, and that it is in any case not “ready to examine offers of good offices from countries who apply [Western] sanctions” against it.

After Switzerland decided in February to follow European Union sanctions on Russia, the latter added the Alpine Nation to a list of “unfriendly” nations; it reckons the country “damaged its neutrality” in applying the measures, RTS writes.

The Ukrainian side has however for some time been in favour of the Swiss acting as letter-carrier, a role which Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis offered shortly after the start of the conflict.

Switzerland currently carries out several similar mandates: sometimes representing one party to a dispute (such as US interests in Iran) or sometimes both (such as between Russia and Georgia). Until 2015 it represented the interests of the US in Cuba and vice versa.

However, it doesn’t always work out: in the case of the dispute between Venezuela and the US, Washington agreed to a Swiss mandate in 2019, but Caracas never approved it.