Ukraine: Switzerland aligns in its own way with EU sanctions against Russia

A Ukrainian air defense base at Mariupol on the Black Sea after Russian bombing. Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

“Neutrality does not mean indifference,” Confederation President Ignazio Cassis said Thursday afternoon after the extraordinary session of the Federal Council. Switzerland will refrain from taking its own sanctions against Russia, but will strengthen its measures to prevent evasion of those adopted by the EU.

This content was posted on Feb 24, 2022 – 6:09 PM

Marc-André Miserez, with agencies and RTS

Swiss Solidarity is launching a donation campaign for Ukraine.

Donations can be made at bonheur.chexternal link or to the postal account number 10-15000-6 with the mention “Crisis in Ukraine”.

Initially, aid will focus on welcoming refugees in neighboring countries, mainly Poland. Swiss Solidarity works in collaboration with Caritas, the Swiss Red Cross, HEKS, Helvetas, Medair, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Terre des hommes foundation. Depending on how the situation develops, Swiss Solidarity plans to expand its support for aid projects in Ukraine. Donations will be used exclusively for humanitarian aid.

Swiss Solidarity is a private foundation. Born from a program by the then Radio Suisse Romande, it became the humanitarian arm of the Swiss public service radio-television SSR, to which SWI also belongs.

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Ignazio Cassis, who is also foreign minister, condemned “in the strongest manner” the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine and urged Russia “to withdraw them immediately”. He spoke of “a sad day such as we have not seen for a long time” and of a “crisis that affects the entire European continent”.

the swiss way

Overall, “Switzerland will depend” on EU decisions, including for the list of personnae non gratae – for example, the 336 deputies of the Duma,” Ambassador Erwin Bollinger said. This is to prevent Swiss territory from allowing the Russians to circumvent sanctions.

“Actually, the effect of the (Swiss) measures will not be very different from the effect of the measures taken by the EU,” said the diplomat. But Switzerland reserves room for maneuver and “does not take autonomous measures”. It is not just a matter of semantics, assured the Confederation. It is also about sending a signal for the maintenance of Swiss autonomy.

Adjustments are foreseen in the field of armaments, for example in relation to international decisions, in relation to respect for Swiss neutrality.

Switzerland had already taken steps to prevent the evasion of sanctions against Russia in 2014 after the invasion of Crimea. In general, these are even stronger. Switzerland will also assess any new sanctions imposed by the EU and adapt to them if necessary.

>> The press conference of the Federal Council this Thursday, February 24

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Significant sums at stake

From an economic point of view, “Russia represents a market with considerable potential for Swiss companies”, we can read on the website of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, even though the country was in 2021 only Switzerland’s 23rd trading partner. I tell you, there are many Russian interests in Switzerland, a center for trading raw materials and, in particular, hydrocarbons. According to the Russian embassy in Bern, 80% of Russian oil and gas are traded in Switzerland, and the company that manages the Nordstream 2 pipeline (whose certification has been suspended by Germany) is also based in Switzerland.

Add to that the banking business. For Russia, Switzerland is by far the biggest recipient of Russian private capital. Every year, according to the Russian central bank, between 5 and 10 billion dollars of Russian private funds flow into Switzerland, and Russian banks Sberbank and Gazprombank have a branch in Switzerland.

What does the Swiss press say?

The national press reacted with horror to this beginning of the war. The tone is very critical. The Russian attack on Ukraine is not only “a gross violation of international law” but also heralds “a change of era for Europe”.

Now it is up to a united West to overcome Putin’s unscrupulous calculations, writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZexternal link). “America and Europe’s timid policy towards the tyrant in Moscow is a failure. Faced with the danger that Russia poses to the entire continent, we must now turn around,” writes the Zurich daily.

“The end of the old world has begun”, headlines Tages-Anzeigerexternal link, also in Zurich. “After this dark day, nothing will be like before. Putin has lost all empathy, all sense of proportion,” said the daily, for whom the discussion of sanctions now seems strangely out of place and unnecessary, as it is clear that, at this point, “nothing can stop the madness”.

But there are also people in Switzerland who understand Vladimir Putin’s position, recalls the Aargauer Zeitung, who spoke to some of them – before the outbreak of this war. And to quote the ideologue of the UDC (conservative right) Roger Köppel or the former president of FIFA Sepp Blatter. For Yvette Estermann, MP SVP, it is “reasonable” to create a buffer zone between East and West, because NATO should not get too close to Russia’s borders. As for former centrist senator Filippo Lombardi, who once headed the Swiss-Russian parliamentary friendship group, he told the Aargauer Zeitung. “The West has made at least as many mistakes as Russia.”

>> Switzerland condemns this war, from the Federal Palace to the streets – even if not the same crowds of the second Gulf War

The invasion began at dawn

It all started at 6am in Ukraine, 4am in Switzerland. Vladimir Putin intervened by surprise on television to announce a military operation in Ukraine. A few minutes later, the first bombs fell on the country, in particular on the airport in Kiev, the capital.

>> Excerpts from Vladimir Putin’s speech

“I took the decision for a military operation”, said the Kremlin commander, denouncing once again a “genocide” orchestrated by Ukraine in the east of the country and defending the request for help to the separatists and the “aggressive policy of NATO towards Russia”. ” and of which Ukraine is the instrument.

“I ask you to lay down your weapons and return home,” he told the Ukrainian military. The Russian president assured that he did not want the “occupation” of Ukraine, but its “demilitarization”.

>> The special edition of RTS Info

kyiv direct target

Earlier this morning, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba announced the start of a “full-scale invasion of Russia”. “Peaceful cities in Ukraine are under attack. It is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend and win. The world can and must stop Putin. It’s time to act now,” tweeted Dmytro Kouleba.

The United States believes this invasion is aimed at “decapitating” Ukrainian power and that the capital, Kiev, is one of its three main objectives, a senior Pentagon official said. “Our hypothesis is that they intend to simply decapitate the government and install their own mode of governance, which could explain these first moves,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced, in a speech to the nation, the severing of diplomatic relations with Moscow, which, however, were maintained after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. “We will give weapons to all those who want to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities,” he tweeted.

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In the morning, Kiev announced that the Russians had entered Ukrainian territory from Russia and Belarus. “I know that more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and several dozen wounded and there is talk of a dozen dead civilians,” across the country, said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president. Ukraine, meanwhile, claimed to have killed around 50 “Russian occupiers” in the eastern Lugansk region.

the world condemns

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg quickly denounced a “reckless and unprovoked attack”, warning that it puts “countless” lives at risk. “Once again, despite our repeated warnings and our tireless efforts in favor of diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country,” Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

On the European side, the operation is unanimously described as a serious violation of international law. In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen indicated that she would introduce “massive” sanctions against Russia. She said these new EU sanctions would block Russia’s access to “essential technologies and markets”, freeze Russian assets in Europe and that Moscow would be deprived of access to European financial markets.

>> Words from Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission

According to Bernard Guetta, MEP, the 27 members of the EU have never been so united politically. “There is a common front of all states, including Hungary by Viktor Orban. The European Union is determined to build a common defense,” he explained in the special broadcast.external link of the RTS.

In Washington, Joe Biden promised that “the world would hold Russia accountable.” He denounced the “unjustified attack” against Ukraine. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction that this attack will cause,” he insisted.

China, for its part, has indicated that it is “closely monitoring” the situation in Ukraine, refraining from condemning Moscow and calling for an escalation to be avoided. Beijing rejects the term “invasion” and says it understands Russia’s “legitimate security concerns”. “We urge all parties to exercise restraint to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control,” Chinese diplomacy spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

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