Switzerland may ABANDON centuries of neutrality over Ukraine war
Switzerland may ABANDON centuries of neutrality over Ukraine war – after being accused of siding with Russia by sitting on fence
- Pro-Ukraine shift in public and political mood pressures the Swiss government
- They call for an end to a ban which stops exports of Swiss weapons to war zones
Switzerland is close to breaking its centuries-old tradition of neutrality after being accused of sitting on the fence over the war in Ukraine and siding with Russia.
A pro-Ukraine shift in the public and political mood has put pressure on the Swiss government to end the ban on exports of Swiss weapons to war zones.
Buyers of Swiss arms are legally prevented from re-exporting them, a restriction that some representing the country’s large weapons industry say is now hurting trade.
Third countries can in theory apply to Bern to re-export Swiss weapons they have in their stocks, but permission is almost always denied.
If they do stop developing countries from re-exporting Swiss weapons they have in stock, some have claimed this would mean they are siding with Russia.
Thierry Burkart, leader of the centre-right FDP party, has submitted a motion to the government to allow arms to be re-exported to countries with similar democratic values to Switzerland. He said: ‘We shouldn’t have the veto to stop others helping Ukraine. If we do that, we support Russia, which is not a neutral position’
A pro-Ukraine shift in the public and political mood has put pressure on the Swiss government to end the ban on exports of Swiss weapons to war zones as they are accused of sitting on the fence in the war on Ukraine and in turn siding with Russia’s President Putin (pictured)
Thierry Burkart, leader of the centre-right FDP party, has submitted a motion to the government to allow arms to be re-exported to countries with similar democratic values to Switzerland.
Mr Burkart said: ‘We want to be neutral, but we are part of the western world.
‘We shouldn’t have the veto to stop others helping Ukraine. If we do that, we support Russia, which is not a neutral position.
‘Other countries want to support Ukraine and do something for the security and stability of Europe. They cannot understand why Switzerland has to say no.’
Under Swiss neutrality, which dates back to 1815 and was enshrined by treaty in 1907, Switzerland will not send weapons directly or indirectly to combatants in a war.
It operates a separate embargo on arms sales to Ukraine and Russia.
Calls from Switzerland’s European neighbours to allow such transfers to Kyiv have meanwhile grown louder as Russia’s assault intensifies, and parliament’s two security committees recommended that the rules be eased accordingly.
Lawmakers are divided on the issue but a survey by pollsters Sotomo showed 55 per cent of respondents favour allowing weapons to be re-exported to Ukraine.
Co-director of pollsters GFS-Bern, Lukas Golder, said: ‘If we had asked this question before the war the response would have probably been less than 25 per cent.
‘Talking about changing neutrality was a taboo in the past.’
The government – under pressure from abroad after rejecting German and Danish requests for permission to re-export Swiss armoured vehicles and ammunition for anti-aircraft tanks – said it would not prejudge parliamentary discussions.
A spokesman for the Department of Economic Affairs, which oversees arms-related trade issues said Bern ‘adheres to the existing legal framework and will deal with the proposals in due course’.
Under Swiss neutrality, which dates back to 1815 and was enshrined by treaty in 1907, Switzerland will not send weapons directly or indirectly to combatants in a war, like the one being waged in Ukraine against President Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured)
Burkart said he had received positive signals on a law change from other parties in the fragmented legislature.
The Left-leaning Social Democrats say they are in favour of changes, as are the Green Liberals, although the Greens remain opposed.
Green MP Marionna Schlatter said allowing weapon deliveries to Ukraine risked a ‘slippery slope’ towards ending all restrictions, and was incompatible with Switzerland’s neutrality.
Meanwhile the Right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the lower house’s largest party and traditionally staunch defenders of neutrality, now appears divided.
SVP lawmaker, David Zuberbueler, said: ‘Allowing arms shipments to a country involved in an armed conflict is destroying the basis of peace and prosperity in our country.’
SVP member Werner Salzmann, who sits in the upper parliamentary house, disagrees, raising concerns in the Aargauer Zeitung daily about collateral damage to a Swiss defence industry that also backs the campaign for a law change.
The sector, which includes multinationals Lockheed Martin and Rheinmetall, sold 800 million Swiss francs’ ($876 million) worth of armaments abroad in 2021 according to government data, putting it in the global top 15 of exporter nations.
Having a strong arms industry has gone hand in hand with the tradition of neutrality, but the balance of this duality may now be under threat, industry association SwissMem said.
SwissMem director Stefan Brupbacher said: ‘Some of our members have lost contracts or are no longer investing in Switzerland because of the current restrictions.
‘Our current situation weakens our security policy, hampers the credibility of our foreign policy and damages our companies,’ he said. ‘It’s time to change.’
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