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Swiss parliament to probe decision to buy US fighter jets

Swiss MPs are set to look into the government's decision to buy US F-35 fighter jets on the back of "public criticism" of the "transparency" of the decision.

Fighter jets career through the sky in Swiss flag colours
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

A Swiss parliamentary committee said Tuesday it would probe the government’s decision to purchase 36 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet.

The management scrutiny committee of the National Council lower house of parliament decided to investigate “the legality and advisability of certain aspects of the evaluation procedure taken for choosing the Swiss military’s new combat aircraft”, it said in a statement.

A sub-committee will start work in February and publish its findings “in due course”.

“We welcome this examination by the parliament and we will do everything to support it,” the Federal Department of Defence said in a tweet.

READ MORE: Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland’s current air defence set-up will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and the search for a replacement fleet was long and hotly contested.

The F-35A combat aircraft — already used by the US Air Force and several European countries — was chosen in June this year ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing, and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

The Swiss government said the F-35A had a marked technological advantage over the other candidates because it had powerful new systems that ensured information superiority.

At five billion Swiss francs ($5.5 billion, 4.7 billion euros), the procurement costs were around two billion francs cheaper than the second-lowest bidder, said the government.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision to buy the F-35As could be challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and anti-militarists keen to trigger a public vote.

The parliamentary scrutiny committee “wishes to establish transparency on certain points which have aroused criticism from public opinion”, it said.

Its sub-committee will focus on the methods used to assess the competing planes, the room for political manoeuvre with the United States and respect for the principles of public procurement rights.

Switzerland is famously neutral.

However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

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UKRAINE

Switzerland preparing to host Zelensky’s first trip since invasion

Swiss officials are preparing to welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first overseas trip since Russia invaded in late February, when he visits the southern canton of Ticino for a conference on Ukrainian security in July.

Switzerland preparing to host Zelensky’s first trip since invasion

Zelensky has been invited to the event on July 4th and 5th in Lugano alongside several world leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Swiss media reports the Ukrainian leader looks set to attend the conference, which would make it his first trip abroad since Russia invaded in late February. 

Swiss broadsheet Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday that Zelensky originally committed to attend the conference before the invasion, but Swiss authorities said in March the Ukrainian President’s attendance was “no longer imaginable”. 

Security services however said on Wednesday they are continuing to operate under the assumption Zelensky will attend the conference, which would be his first overseas visit. 

Zelensky spoke with Swiss President Ignazio Cassis on Saturday and Swiss authorities believe the Ukrainian President is still planning on attending, but has acknowledged he may cancel the visit at short notice depending on the situation in Ukraine. 

Zelensky has previously refused offers to leave Ukraine, saying he would remain in Kyiv as long as the invasion continued. 

What is the conference about?

Initially planned as a conference to discuss reform, organisers say it will now focus on security, fundraising and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine. 

Security Director Norman Gobbi told the Tages Anzeiger “The reform conference has become a donor and reconstruction conference – with completely different dimensions in terms of security policy.”

Gobbi said the conference had grown in importance “especially since in addition to the Ukrainian representatives, heads of state such as Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz are considering attending”. 

“For Lugano, for the canton of Tessin and for Switzerland it is an honour – but a considerable challenge – to host such a conference”. 

Switzerland has thrown its support behind Ukraine since the invasion, joining EU sanctions efforts despite domestic criticism that it amounts to an erosion of the country’s commitment to neutrality. 

READ MORE: Sanctions on Russia – is Switzerland still a neutral nation? 

Cassis has dismissed these concerns, saying “doing nothing in the face of an aggressor is not neutral”. 

Zelensky, who previously met Cassis in October 2021 before their April 30th meeting, has previously said he would consider a Swiss-style form of armed neutrality in order to bring the invasion to an end. 

The southern, Italian-speaking canton of Ticino has come under increasing scrutiny since Russia’s invasion, with speculation in Russian and Swiss media that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mistress, Alina Kabaeva, lives in Ticino, with several of Putin’s children. 

At least two of Putin’s children are believed to have been born in Lugano, with US government officials believing they have spent their time alongside their mother in a Lugano villa and in a luxury compound in the western canton of Geneva. 

Swiss officials have said publicly that Kabaeva has not been issued with a Swiss residency permit, giving rise to media speculation that she is living in the country illegally. 

Kabaeva, a former gymnast who won Olympic gold, made her first appearance since the invasion at a gymnastics event in Moscow in April, where she called upon Russia to support the war efforts. 

In her appearance, Kabaeva said “every family has a war story and we mustn’t forget it”, while linking the current invasion to the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War Two

READ MORE: Pressure building on Switzerland to deport Putin’s mistress

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