This was the real beginning of our study trip. At 8:45, we left the hotel to go to the Swiss Embassy. This was the first time we took the metro with 35 people. Let’s just say in a city with 14 million people, it was anything but calm. Although the Russian natives squeezed past us on the escalators and then again at the end of the seemingly never-ending way down to the metro, we managed not to lose each other.
The Swiss Embassy is located in a nice neighborhood with a playground just across from the building and the Swiss flag hanging above their door. Five to six employees of the Swiss Embassy welcomed us, each of them specializing in a slightly different area. In hindsight, this was the perfect beginning to the other company visits because it gave us a nice overview of Russia and Russia’s relations to Switzerland.
The Swiss Embassy issues about 50,000-60,000 visas a year. Also, it was mentioned several times that 2014 was a significant year for Swiss-Russian relations since it marked 200 years of diplomatic relations. This year, Switzerland holds the presidency for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Switzerland is a non-NATO and non-EU country, which gives it credit in Russia. Furthermore, Switzerland sees itself as a force for peace and peaceful co-existence. Before the recent Ukrainian crisis, Switzerland’s priorities were in security, stability, freedom and human rights of the OSCE. During the presidency, Switzerland has had to deal with the Ukrainian crisis as well. A monitoring mission was implemented where the monitors would neutrally report information on what they would see, hear, etc. Essentially, the Swiss diplomats told us that the Ukrainian crisis was a crisis of European security.
After the presentations, we enjoyed a nice reception with some lovely Russian style finger food and some Swiss wine. We chatted with the diplomats and were able to ask more questions about Russia.
It was very beneficial to have the visit to the Swiss Embassy before we went to visit all the other companies. This way we could get a better sense as to why companies might behave the way they do. It also showed us what the relationship between Switzerland and Russia is like.
Our next stop was Rusal, Russia’s largest producer of aluminum. Vera Kurochkina, the Deputy CEO of Rusal, came in like a whirlwind and gave a quick overview/presentation of Rusal. Rusal is responsible for 8% of the global production of aluminum with assets in 13 countries. Aluminum companies keep their technology very secret since it is the core of the business. It seemed that their competitive advantage encompassed their ability to produce and deliver products just-in-time. Rusal’s supply chain consists of fast and reliable shipping Services.
Ms. Kurochkina mentioned something called the “Russian discount”, which means that people think that if it comes from Russia, then there must be something wrong with it. This was a thought-provoking comment to make whilst presenting the company. For a Swiss citizen, I believe this is hard to grasp, since most products that are from Switzerland have the opposite effect- if it comes from Switzerland, it must be good. It seems that aluminum’s future is unclear. The automotive industry, for example, is exchanging aluminum for steel. Furthermore, the value of aluminum has declined. However, forecasts state that in the construction industry.
Later that day, we were invited for a welcome Apéro at Yves Morath’s flat. We were introduced to his family and enjoyed talking to the fellow diplomats in a more relaxed Setting. From the apartment, there was a spectacular view onto the Finance Ministry.
It is here that on behalf of IM12 we want to thank the Swiss Embassy in Moscow. We enjoyed the visit very much. A special thank you to Yves Morath and his family for opening their home to us.