Switzerland on Monday endorsed the EU’s entire package of economic sanctions of the European Union against Russia, shocked by the brutality of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine while ensuring to preserve its neutrality.
The federal government “is taking this step with conviction, in a thoughtful and unequivocal manner”, insisted the President of the Swiss Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, during a press briefing following an extraordinary meeting of the federal government.
“Neutrality is not indifference,” Cassis said on Sunday to prepare the ground in this Alpine country very attached to its neutrality. He also offered his services to find a way out of the crisis.
The EU, which made no secret of its displeasure when Bern appeared to stall last week, welcomed the decision because without Switzerland the measures would have been “less effective”.
The Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, saw in it “an important signal of the close coordination of the international community”.
Ueli Maurer, the Swiss finance minister, stressed that the assets of Russian personalities and entities that are on the EU blacklist “are frozen with immediate effect”.
The financial sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Michoustin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are being implemented without delay, the Federal Council specified.
For her part, the Minister of Justice, Karin Keller-Sutter, indicated that five Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs “very close to Vladimir Putin” and with strong economic ties with Switzerland were “immediately banned from entering Switzerland”.
Those targeted, whose names Switzerland does not want to make public but who are on the European blacklist, do not have a residence permit in Switzerland, but important “economic links, especially in finance and the trading of raw materials,” she added.
As the EU had done on Sunday, Switzerland also closed its airspace to all flights from Russia and to all air movements of Russian planes, including private planes, “with the exception flights carried out for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes”.
The pressure also came from within. Most political parties, with the exception of the radical right-wing UDC party, to which Mr. Maurer belongs, called for a stronger gesture.
Saturday between 10,000 and 20,000 people, who marched to support the Ukrainian people, also very vocally demanded tougher sanctions.
The Federal Council nevertheless specifies that “Switzerland will continue to examine each new package of sanctions enacted by the EU individually”.
While Russia is only the 23rd commercial partner of Switzerland, the banks of the Alpine country are among the favorites of the big fortunes to invest their money.
According to statistics from the Bank for International Settlements, Swiss banks’ liabilities to Russian customers amounted to $23 billion (€20.5 billion) in the third quarter of 2021, including $21.4 billion (€19.1 billion) in the form of deposits.
Russian oligarchs also have interests in large Swiss companies.
In addition, 80% of Russian oil and gas trading is done in Switzerland, according to estimates cited by the Swiss press. The country is home to major commodity trading companies such as Gunvor, Trafigura or Glencore.
Economy Minister Guy Parmelin acknowledged that these sanctions and the war were not without economic consequences for Switzerland.
Thus, he claimed that the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline company – its entry into service is suspended as a retaliatory measure against Russia -, which is based in the canton of Zug, has dismissed its 142 employees.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.