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Why is Switzerland on Russia’s ‘enemy country’ list – and what does it mean?

On Monday, Switzerland was placed alongside several other western nations and all European Union members on a list of ‘enemy nations’ by Russia. But what is the actual impact of the list and why is Switzerland on it?

People lay flowers at the site where late opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was fatally shot on a bridge near the Kremlin in central Moscow on February 27, 2022, on the seventh anniversary of his assassination. Photo: Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
People lay flowers at the site where late opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was fatally shot on a bridge near the Kremlin in central Moscow on February 27, 2022, on the seventh anniversary of his assassination. Photo: Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

Switzerland’s announcement that it would join the EU in placing sanctions on Russia led to widespread domestic support, despite some criticism from members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. 

READ MORE: Switzerland placed on list of ‘enemy nations’ by Russia

While the announcement also won international plaudits, Russia has responded by placing Switzerland on a list of “enemy countries”. 

What is the list and who is on it? 

Those placed on the list on Monday include all EU countries, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, among others. 

Prior to the announcement, only the United States and the Czech Republic, an EU member, were on the list. 

The list was created in April 2021 pursuant to a decree from Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Why do countries get placed on the list? 

It is as yet unclear if a set of criteria exist for placing a country on the list, other than somehow offending Russia or taking action diplomatically. 

The US – which was also re-added to the list on Monday for supporting international sanctions – was on the list from April 2021 due to expelling Russian diplomats as a result of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and other state-sanctioned hacking efforts. 

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

The Czech Republic was on the list prior to Monday’s announcement for expelling Russian diplomats in 2014 in response to an explosion in an ammunition depot in the east of the country, a charge which Russia denies. 

Why is Switzerland on the list?

The move was announced on Monday, with Russian authorities alleging those placed on the list had committed “unfriendly acts” against it. 

While Russian authorities did not specify exactly why these countries have been placed on the list, experts believe the move comes as a response to western sanctions imposed as a result of the invasion. 

In addition to the sanctions, Switzerland’s open support of Ukraine is likely to have frustrated Moscow. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent Switzerland a letter in early February asking Switzerland “which side it was on” with regard to Ukraine, Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reports. 

Russia asked for a “quick and clear answer” from Switzerland with regard to the 1999 European Security Charter, which allows states to choose alliances which promote their own security. 

Switzerland answered the letter, saying all points of state security should be discussed within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

What does it mean to be placed on the list?

The exact scope and impact of being placed on the list is also relatively unclear, although news agency Interfax reports that anyone in Russia wishing to deal with entities from countries on the list can only do so with government approval. 

“All business and transactions of Russian companies with citizens and companies from countries that are not friendly to Russia are now approved by the government commission for the supervision of foreign investments.”

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

The practical impact of this is likely to be relatively minimal however, with western companies already pulling out of Russia due to western sanctions. 

Germany’s Spiegel reports on Tuesday that another consequence of being placed on the list is that all debts and obligations will be paid in Russian roubles, regardless of the currency set under the agreement. 

This is likely to trouble entities which still deal with Russia, due to the rapidly falling value of the rouble since the sanctions were announced. 

Another consequence of being placed on the list is that all states wanting to do business in Russia need to set up a clearing account with a Russian bank. According to Spiegel: 

“The West had imposed sanctions on numerous Russian banks and also decided to exclude numerous financial institutions from the Swift banking communications network. This makes transfers and other banking transactions much more difficult.”

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‘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. 


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.”