Switzerland again blocks transfer of arms, tanks to Ukraine

Switzerland insisted Friday, June 3rd, that it would not allow Swiss war materiel to be transferred via third countries to Ukraine, in line with its strict military neutrality.

Switzerland's support of Ukraine cannot include arms or even protective devices.Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Switzerland's support of Ukraine cannot include arms or even protective devices.Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

However it decided that individual parts and assembly packages could be delivered to European defence companies even if they will be used to produce war materiel that might later be transferred to Ukraine.

Switzerland said it had received requests from Germany and Denmark to transfer war materiel to Ukraine.

The German request concerned around 12,400 rounds of 35-millimetre ammunition produced by Switzerland for self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, and for Piranha III wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs) that were originally procured by Denmark and which have been stored in Germany since they were decommissioned.

READ ALSO: Switzerland vetoes Danish military donation to Ukraine

The request made by Denmark concerns 22 Swiss-made Piranha III wheeled APCs. Under Switzerland’s War Materiel Act, export requests cannot be approved if the recipient country is in an international armed conflict.

“Given that exports of such goods from Switzerland to Ukraine cannot be approved due to the law of neutrality’s principle of equal treatment and the provisions of the War Materiel Act, it follows that it is not possible to approve the transfer of Swiss war materiel by Germany and Denmark to Ukraine,” the Federal Council government said in a statement.

The government also decided Friday on two requests by Swiss firms to export parts and assembly packages to defence companies in neighbouring Germany and Italy.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland rejected a German arms delivery to Ukraine

The requests concerned components for both hand-held anti-tank weapons and for anti-aircraft weapons.

“There is a risk that some of the components could be incorporated into war materiel abroad that could then be passed on to Ukraine,” the government said.

The War Materiel Act allows Swiss companies to participate in international value chains of the defence industry. In practice, the Swiss government has generally only tended to approve the export of parts and assembly packages if their share in the end product’s value remains below a certain threshold — less than 50 percent in the case of Italy or Germany.

“The Federal Council has decided to continue this practice. Exports of this kind are compatible with the law of neutrality,” it said.

Within days of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Switzerland decided to match the neighbouring European Union’s sanctions on Moscow, breaking with the neutral Alpine country’s traditional reserve. 

Switzerland’s long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

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Swiss president under fire for handshake photo with Russia’s Lavrov

While attending the opening week of the 77th UN General Assembly in New York this week, Switzerland’s president Ignazio Cassis was photographed shaking hands with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Swiss president under fire for handshake photo with Russia's Lavrov

Though Cassis announced beforehand that he would address “President Putin’s recent provocations” and that he would “condemn the nuclear threat”, Russia used the photo for its own propaganda purposes, with Lavrov publishing the picture of the two smiling diplomats in his tweet.

Cassis quickly reacted with his own post, explaining that his meeting with Lavrov was for a good cause.

“I called on Russia to refrain from organizing so-called referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Switzerland is also very concerned about the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. Neutrality and good offices remain our instruments of dialogue”.

However, some in Switzerland and elsewhere have not accepted this response.

While the Foreign Ministry said “it sees no problem” with this photo, Swiss media Blick noted that “no head of state or minister of a Western democracy has allowed himself to be represented with Sergei Lavrov in such a posture”.

“This image would reflect an apparent normality in relations between the two countries, while Switzerland is still one of the countries hostile to Russia”.

It added, however, that Cassis might have had a noble motive in shaking Lavrov’s hand.

“In the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s announcement to mobilise the reserve troops of the Russian army against Ukraine, this somewhat tense grip is more due to the contingencies of diplomacy than to a reconciliation”.

Others were less understanding of Cassis’ action.

“Our President is shaking hands with a war criminal… I can’t believe it”, said Bernhard Guhl, former national adviser to the Center party.

For Thierry Burkart, president of the Liberal party, “it’s unfortunate that this photo exists. But sometimes you just can’t avoid it…”

As for other social media users, one commented that Cassis “looks proud standing next to a genocide instigator… ashamed of my government”.