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Reader question: Do Russians now have to leave Switzerland?

As part of sanctions that the Federal Council adopted on Monday, Russian citizens can no longer enter Switzerland and those already in the country must leave. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: Do Russians now have to leave Switzerland?
Russia's Aeroflot airlines are no longer allowed to land in Switzerland. Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP

Russian citizens present in Switzerland will have to leave the country when their tourist visa expires. On Monday, the Federal Council suspended a 2009 rule which allowed Russians to obtain short-term visas to visit Switzerland. 

This ruling extends only to Russian tourists and other visitors who need a visa to enter Switzerland; permanent residents with a B or C permit are not included in the sanctions and are thereby permitted to remain in Switzerland. 

Leaving Switzerland, however, is not as simple as it sounds because Russian planes can no longer land on Swiss soil, and vice-versa.

So how are Russians supposed to get home?

“The organisation of the return journey is the responsibility of the persons concerned; Switzerland does not provide any support in this regard”, Roland E. Fluekiger, spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) told The Local.

As the European Union has the same sanctions in place, these tourists cannot simply fly to a EU country and reach Russia from there.

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

“As far as we know, Russia can also be reached indirectly, for example via Istanbul. A return journey may also be possible by land”, Fluekiger said.

SWISS airlines announced a suspension of all Russia-bound flights until the end of March after the announcement was made. 

Prior to that, Swiss had flown from Zurich to Moscow five times per week, from Geneva to Moscow twice a week and from Geneva to St Petersburg once per week. 

The ban applies to commercial and private jets and the only exception to the ban is for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic flights. 

READ MORE: What do Russia flight bans mean for international travel from Switzerland?

By contrast, Ukrainian citizens have been able to come to Switzerland without a visa since 2017; the only requirement  was a biometric passport.

From February 28th, however, that rule has been waved and Ukrainians can now enter with any kind of valid passport. Ukrainians are also entitled to free travel within Switzerland on public transport towards their final destination

Banking problems

But not being able to fly home is not the only problem Russian tourists are facing right now: as their credit and debit cards issued by Russian banks no longer work in Switzerland or anywhere in the EU, they may have no access to money, unless they carry lots of cash.

As a result, Russian nationals in Switzerland are “desperately trying to free themselves from the ever-tightening vice of sanctions. They distance themselves as much as possible from their homeland”, according to a report in Tribune de Genève.

“Many wealthy Russians have multiple passports and have now requested to no longer be registered with the bank as Russian residents, but to be registered at another [EU] domicile”, the manager of one wealth management institution told the newspaper.

Banks, however, remain “very cautious”.

“Each of these residency transfers is reviewed by a compliance committee. People whose names are on the sanctions list have no chance of getting their money back. No bank wants to be censured for violating sanctions”, according to the report.

READ MORE: Swiss supermarkets begin boycott of Russian goods

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POLITICS

‘Colossal’: World leaders meet in Switzerland for Ukraine recovery conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and the private sector gathered in Switzerland Monday to hash out a "Marshall Plan" to rebuild war-ravaged Ukraine.

‘Colossal’: World leaders meet in Switzerland for Ukraine recovery conference

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who will take part virtually, warned Sunday that the work ahead in the areas that have been liberated alone was “really colossal”.

“And we will have to free over 2,000 villages and towns in the east and south of Ukraine,” he said.

The two-day conference, held under tight security in the picturesque southern Swiss city of Lugano, had been planned well before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24.

It had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine, but once the Russian bombs began to fall it was repurposed to focus on reconstruction.

As billions of dollars in aid flows into Ukraine, however, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms remain in focus and will be a condition for any recovery plan decided here. 

‘Roadmap’

Lugano is not a pledging conference, but will instead attempt to lay out the principles and priorities for a rebuilding process aimed to begin even as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to rage.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland Artem Rybchenko said ahead of the conference that it would help create “the roadmap” to his country’s recovery.

Zelensky had initially been scheduled to come and co-host the event alongside his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis, but now he is due to give his address Monday afternoon via video link.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has however made a rare trip out of Ukraine since the war began to attend, and was met at the airport Sunday by Cassis and regional leaders.

Five other government ministers were also among the around 100 Ukrainians who made the long and perilous journey, although Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.

In all, around 1,000 people were scheduled to participate in the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, several government chiefs and numerous ministers. 

‘Marshall Plan’

Questions have been raised about the value in discussing reconstruction when there is no end in sight to the war.

But Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the RTS broadcaster that while the reconstruction itself could only happen fully after the bombs have stopped, it is vital to give “a positive perspective to civilians who have lost their homes, and who are struggling with anxiety and uncertainty for the future”.

Others stress the need to begin laying the groundwork well in advance, as was done with the wildly successful Marshall Plan, a US initiative that pumped vast sums in foreign aid into Western Europe to help the continent rebuild and recover after World War II.

The task is daunting.

Rebuilding Ukraine, which four months into the war has already seen devastating destruction, is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

The effort will require “colossal investments”, Zelensky acknowledged at the weekend.

Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) has estimated the damage done so far to buildings and infrastructure at nearly $104 billion.

It estimated that at least 45 million square metres of housing, 256 enterprises, 656 medical institutions, and 1,177 educational institutions had been damaged, destroyed or seized, while Ukraine’s economy had already suffered losses of up to $600 billion. 

Could last decades 

Simon Pidoux, the Swiss ambassador in charge of the conference, said that it was too early to try to estimate all the needs, insisting Lugano instead should provide “a compass” for the work ahead.

“I think the effort will last for years if not decades,” he said.

While not a donor conference, a number of participants are expected to make new pledges and propose frameworks for providing more funds.

The European Investment Bank will for instance propose the creation of a new Ukraine trust fund, which with investments from EU and non-EU states could eventually swell to 100 billion euros, according to sources familiar with the draft plans.

The proposal, which is due to be announced Monday afternoon, aims to create a platform able to generate investment towards reconstruction, and also towards Ukraine’s EU accession goals, they said.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is meanwhile due to set out her country’s vision for the rebuilding, according to a statement. In her comments to the conference Monday, she is expected to highlight the importance of Ukraine’s full recovery from “Russia’s war of aggression”. That, she will say, will be “a symbol of the power of democracy over autocracy.”

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