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EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland has not banned Russia’s propaganda networks

Unlike many other countries, Switzerland has not banned Russian propaganda networks like Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik. Why?

The logo of Russian state-run news network Russia Today. Photo: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
The logo of Russian state-run news network Russia Today. Photo: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, authorities in the European Union, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere banned Russian state-run news networks, including Russia Today and Sputnik. 

In making the announcement, the EU said it would stay in place “until the Russian Federation and its associated outlets cease to conduct disinformation and information manipulation actions against the EU and its member states.”

As of late May however, Switzerland has not followed suit – although several networks including Salt, Sunrise and Swisscom have voluntarily removed the channels from their networks. 

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in late May, former Ukrainian boxer Vladimir Klitschko, whose brother is mayor of Kyiv, said Switzerland would have “blood on its hands” if the networks were not banned. 

Klitschko said the networks were “brainwashing” people in Switzerland about the conflict. 

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

Why hasn’t Switzerland banned the networks?

Swiss federal councillor Viola Amherd, the head of the Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), announced a plan to ban the channels on March 23, calling them a Russian “propaganda hub”. 

“After consistent adoption of EU sanctions by Switzerland, standing aside on this important issue would be incomprehensible” a department spokesperson told Swiss news organisation Tamedia. 

Legal experts however question whether Switzerland would be able to uphold such a ban. 

A Federal Office of Communications (Ofcom) spokesperson told 20 Minutes that the government has ‘no legal basis’ to enforce such a ban. 

“The federal government does not have the basis in telecommunications law to demand blocking of access to websites with content from RT or Sputnik, but I have noted that individual Providers such as Swisscom, Sunrise and Salt no longer offer the relevant programs on their TV platforms,” the spokesperson said. 

There is also disagreement on the federal council, Switzerland’s primary governing body, as to whether a ban is justified. 

Guy Parmelin, Amherd’s colleague on the seven-member body, said a ban would be disproportionate with freedoms of expression and the media. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

Parmelin’s Swiss People’s Party have also been the primary opponent of Switzerland’s decision to adopt European Union sanctions against Russia, saying it is an erosion of Switzerland’s long-held neutrality. 

The DDPS hit back however, saying the networks were not examples of a free and diverse media, but were instead state-run instruments controlled and financed directly by Moscow. 

The DDPS has indicated it will push ahead with a ban, which may lead to a legal showdown to determine the legality of the prohibition. 

Ukraine: Pressure builds on Switzerland to deport ‘Putin’s mistress’

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Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Allies of Ukraine meeting in Switzerland were due Tuesday to adopt a declaration spelling out the principles and priorities of rebuilding the war-shattered country, estimated to cost at least $750 billion.

Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and businesses have been meeting in the southern Swiss city of Lugano under tight security since Monday, discussing the best path forward for reconstruction, even as Russia’s war continues to rage in Ukraine.

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Speaking on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a long line of government ministers described the massive destruction caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” Zelensky said via video message. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the recovery “is already estimated at $750 billion”. “The key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he said.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it”.

READ MORE: Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The conference, which had been planned before the invasion, had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on recovery.

Shmyhal laid out the government’s phased reconstruction plan, focused first on the immediate needs of those affected by the war, followed by the financing of thousands of longer-term reconstruction projects aimed at making Ukraine European, green and digital.

Those priorities are expected to be reflected in a final Lugano Declaration setting out the general principles defining a framework for rebuilding Ukraine, which should be adopted when the conference wraps up around midday Tuesday.

As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms will also be seen as a condition for any recovery plan decided.

The former Soviet state has long been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International.

In Europe, only Russia and Azerbaijan ranked worse.

The Ukrainians have proposed that allied countries “adopt” specific regions of Ukraine, and lead the recovery there to render it more efficient. Britain has proposed taking on the Kyiv region, while a diplomatic source said France would concentrate on the heavily-hit Chernihiv region.

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In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.