Traditionally neutral Switzerland adopts sanctions against Russia

President calls decision a ‘big step for Switzerland’; Russia’s mission in Geneva says it will not attend a UN Human Rights Council meeting

President of the Swiss Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, pauses while speaking during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on January 21, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
President of the Swiss Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, pauses while speaking during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on January 21, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — Traditionally neutral Switzerland will adopt all the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bern said Monday.

“This is a big step for Switzerland,” Swiss President Ignazio Cassis told a press conference, after the Alpine nation had for days hesitated over whether to join the international move to sanction Moscow over the attack on its neighbor.

As the European Union last week slapped Russia with biting sanctions after it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Bern only said it would ensure that those penalties could not be circumvented via Switzerland.

But following a government meeting Monday, Switzerland announced it was now fully on board with the sanctions.

“Switzerland will implement the sanctions in coordination with the EU,” the government, known as the Federal Council, said in a statement, adding that these were “primarily goods and financial sanctions.”

But they also included the freezing of the assets of persons and companies.

In particular, the government said Switzerland would with “immediate effect” impose the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Putin, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“In so doing, Switzerland is responding to the serious violations of international law for which these individuals are responsible,” it said.

The announcement came as Russia’s mission in Geneva announced that Lavrov had been forced to cancel his trip to the United Nations Human Rights Council due to the “anti-Russian sanctions” imposed by EU countries.

Lavrov had been scheduled to travel to the Swiss city on Tuesday to address the body.

The Swiss government said Monday that it would also close Swiss airspace to all flights from Russia and to all movements of aircraft with Russian markings, except for flights for humanitarian, medical, or diplomatic purposes.

Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter meanwhile told reporters that five oligarchs close to the Russian president, and who had strong ties to Switzerland, had been banned from entering the country.

And Bern said it had decided to partially suspend a 2009 agreement on visa facilitation for Russian nationals, although holders of diplomatic passports would still be permitted to enter Switzerland without a visa.

A US guard walk past the Russian convoy arriving at the US permanent Mission during talks in Geneva on soaring tensions over Ukraine, in Geneva, on January 10, 2022 (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

While it is copying the existing sanctions imposed by the EU, the government said Switzerland would examine any further sanctions imposed by the bloc “on a case-by-case basis.”

Switzerland had come under increasing pressure to get in line with the EU and US sanctions against Russia, with nearly all political parties backing the move.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed Monday’s decision, saying it was “very good news” that Switzerland would “fight against corruption and the dark money… of the oligarchs who support Putin and who are being targeted by sanctions.”

“Without the participation of Switzerland, our measures would have been not as effective as needed,” he told reporters.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, on Monday, January 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Russia may only rank 23rd on Switzerland’s list of trading partners, but the Alpine country’s banks are often favored by Russia’s ultra-rich.

According to statistics from the Bank for International Settlements, Swiss banks had in the third quarter last year some $23 billion in Russian holdings, mostly from deposits.

The majority of Russia’s oil business passes through Switzerland, while its cereals and metals are also traded in Geneva.

Before shifting its approach, Bern said it had carefully considered “Switzerland’s neutrality and peace policy considerations,” but that “Russia’s unprecedented military attack on a sovereign European country was the deciding factor.”

Bern stressed though that it remained willing to “actively contribute to a solution to the conflict through its good offices.”

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