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Why hasn’t Switzerland imposed sanctions on Russia?

While the European Union, the US and the UK has imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine on Thursday, why has the Swiss government so far resisted this move?

President Ignazio Cassis said Switzerland will join the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
President Ignazio Cassis said Switzerland will join the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Although the European Union has approved a far-reaching economic and financial round of sanctions on Russia, Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU or NATO but maintains close ties with both, abstained from taking similar measures.

While the Federal Council announced that it condemns “in the strongest way” the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine and urges Russia “to withdraw them immediately”, Swiss president Ignazio Cassis said Switzerland will refrain from imposing its own sanctions.

READ MORE: Ukraine conflict: Will Switzerland impose sanctions on Russia?

“The Federal Council decided not to adopt the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, but to take all necessary measures to ensure that Switzerland would not be misused to circumvent the sanctions.”

“Switzerland may adopt compulsory measures to enforce sanctions adopted by the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or Switzerland’s main trading partners in order to ensure compliance with international law, in particular respect for human rights”, it added.

The Federal Council is already evaluating the possibility of preventing Swiss banks from accepting new funds from Russia (see below).

But why is Switzerland not imposing its own sanctions on Russia?

While some critics have said Switzerland is hiding behind its neutrality, there are other reasons, according to Livia Lieu, an official at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

She said that Switzerland exercises the role of “protective power “in certain international conflicts — for example, it represents Russian interests in Georgia, and vice versa.

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

For that reason, Switzerland’s delicate role as intermediary would be in peril if the country were to act against Russia.

“Unacceptable hesitation”

Meanwhile, the government’s position is inciting criticism from members of the parliament.

“The Federal Council must take a clear position. Any other attitude would mean that Switzerland tolerates open war in the heart of Europe”, said MP  Fabian Molina.

Another deputy, Jon Pult, is also critical of Switzerland’s stance.

“Putin is waging war on Ukraine against the UN charter. There is no neutrality that holds in the face of such violations of international law”, he said on Twitter. “The Federal Council’s hesitation is unacceptable”.

MP Jürg Grossen is also calling for Swiss participation in EU sanctions. “I expect the Federal Council to show solidarity with its European partners and to participate in EU sanctions”, he said.

All the political parties echo this call, except one. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) urges Switzerland to practice restraint, remain neutral and “not copy EU sanctions”, said party president Marco Chiesa.

READ MORE: UPDATE: How Switzerland could be impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Financial links

Switzerland has been one of the top ten investors in Russia since 2014, according to federal data cited by the RTS public broadcaster.

At the same time, according to estimates from the Swiss embassy in Moscow, Switzerland has for years been the main destination for wealthy Russians to manage their wealth.

In 2020, people residing in Russia transferred 2.5 billion dollars to Switzerland and 1.8 billion for the first two quarters of 2021. This corresponds to a five-year record, as shown by the latest economic report from the embassy.

The analysis underlines that the Swiss financial center is considered attractive for Russians, in particular because of the the political stability and neutrality.

Switzerland also plays an important role for Russia in the commodity trade. According to the report, about 80 percent of Russian commodity trade passes through Swiss financial services centers.

This explains why the largest Russian companies in the energy and raw materials sector, as well as renowned credit institutions, have a subsidiary in Switzerland.

READ MORE: OPINION: Why Switzerland is failing in its fight against money laundering

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.