Abandoning neutrality, Switzerland backs anti-Russia sanctions-but it comes with a price

·2-min read

Switzerland's newly adopted tough stance on Russia has forced the Swiss economy to readjust to sanctions, blowing a wind of panic through the raw materials market in particular.

The Swiss Federal Council announced on 28 February that it froze assets of a list of individuals and companies, noting that "the financial sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are also to be implemented with immediate effect."

Switzerland followed sanctions imposed by the European Union, abandoning Bern's traditional reserve by ordering the immediate freezing of assets belonging to Russian companies and individuals appearing on the EU blacklist.

And it went further on Friday, adopting even stricter EU sanctions applied in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine that started on 24 February.

Exporting goods that could enhance Russia's military capabilities is prohibited, as is the exportation of certain goods and services in the oil sector, and aviation technology.

"The implementation of these sanctions is compatible with Switzerland's neutrality," the government insisted in a statement.

The Swiss businesses are complying with the sanctions but have also stressed that Russian money accounts for only a fraction of their turnover, in an attempt to reassure investors.

The airline Swiss, a subsidiary of Germany's Lufthansa, has suspended its flights to Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

"Surprised"

Global container shipping company MSC and freight logistics firm Kuehne + Nagel have stopped taking Russian orders for cargo, except for food, medical and humanitarian goods.

Business lobby Economiesuisse said the sanctions would have "limited" direct consequences on foreign trade.

Russia is only Switzerland's 23rd-biggest trading partner. The Swiss mainly export medicines, medical products, watches and machinery to Russia, while the chief imports are gold, precious metals and aluminium.

In 2021, exports to Russia amounted to 3.2 billion Swiss francs ($3.5 billion, 3.2 billion euros), with imports as low as 270 million francs, according to the customs authorities.

However, the landlocked state is an important player in raw materials trading, through companies such as Glencore, Trafigura, Vitol and Gunvor.

Gennady Gatilov, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said Friday he was surprised by the sanctions, because Switzerland had always "tried to maintain a certain neutrality".

"We are disappointed with this, because we have very good relations with Switzerland... and the joining of Switzerland to these unlawful sanctions... will have (a) certain negative impact," he told reporters.

(With AFP)

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