Switzerland may lift sanctions against Russia


The press service of the Russian Foreign Ministry

The leading national-conservative Swiss People’s Party / Democratic Union of the Center (German: Schweizerische Volkspartei, SVP) supported the clarification and finalization of the constitutional provision on national neutrality.

Constitutional changes, according to the conservatives, should address the prohibition to join any military alliance unless Switzerland itself is attacked. Another possible addition: a rule is needed that would prevent the government from imposing or acceding to coercive sanctions (which has happened, for example, against Russia and China) unless the UN Security Council gives a mandate to do so.

A couple of words about the party: it is the largest party in parliament, winning 28.6% of the vote and 62 out of 200 seats in the 2023 elections.

As part of the initiative «On preserving Swiss neutrality», put forward by the NGO Pro Suisse with the support of the SVP, activists collected 130 thousand signature sheets, which gives the right to submit it to the government for consideration for a national referendum.

On April 11, all the necessary documents (including the signature sheets) were submitted to the Federal Chancellery. For information: the Chancellery, is the central administrative support unit of the Federal Council (the national government of the Swiss Confederation). This makes a nationwide vote on a constitutional amendment almost inevitable in the next few months.

As far as sanctions are concerned, Switzerland has joined almost all the prohibitive measures against Russia that NATO and the EU have imposed after February 24, 2022. Bern is not a member of these associations, but within the framework of others’, in fact, restrictive measures, it blocked private Russian assets worth $8.8 billion. More than a third of Russian assets registered in the country — more than $19.7 billion — were also frozen. About another $8.45 billion of Russian Central Bank assets were blocked, with Switzerland expressing its readiness to take part in international discussions on their confiscation.

«All the more unclear are the deliberate attempts to weaken neutrality: rapprochement with NATO, unilateral renewal of EU sanctions, (indirect) arms deliveries to belligerents. <…> The consequence of such a diverse foreign policy is that Switzerland is no longer perceived as a neutral state and thus no longer enjoys the trust of all parties to the conflict. An emergency brake must be used today. Switzerland must strictly restore its permanent and armed neutrality», the petition said.

«If all states behaved like Switzerland, there would be no war», the National Conservative Party press office said, welcoming the handover of the referendum documents. And it added that sanctions against Russia «jeopardize internal peace, stability and the unique success story of our country in the center of Europe».

I note that in Switzerland, referendums, along with elections, are one of the most important forms of direct democracy. Amendments to the Constitution, laws adopted by Parliament, international treaties and agreements concluded by the government, as well as other important issues are put up for discussion. As a rule, the Swiss vote four times each year.

By the way, here is a recent example of a direct violation of neutrality. On April 10, the Swiss government approved the country’s participation in the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) air defense system.

This initiative is spearheaded by Germany, which in October 2022, against the backdrop of the escalating Ukrainian crisis, called for the creation of fully coordinated short-, medium- and long-range air defense systems to be able to defend against any threats from the air. The ESSI member states want to jointly procure the necessary equipment and weapons, which together will make it possible to cover the maximum area at minimal cost. The needs of different countries will be taken into account. The joint acquisition and maintenance of air defense systems by NATO’s European member states should result in savings in both procurement and operating costs. Nineteen European countries have announced their intention to participate in the ESSI.

«By participating in the European Sky Shield Initiative, Switzerland is expanding its international cooperation capabilities», the government announcement stated. At the same time, Bern, referring to the same neutrality, specifies that even after signing the declaration of accession to the ESSI, the country is free to decide where and to what extent it will participate in the initiative and what systems it will acquire.

That’s such a free interpretation of a fundamental provision of the Swiss Constitution. It is not certain that the referendum will stop further attempts to dilute the strict norms of neutrality. But the leading parliamentary party rightly believes that it is worth bringing at least relative order to this issue.