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NATO in, neutrality out: How the Ukraine invasion impacted Switzerland

The Swiss are increasingly warming towards greater security cooperation with NATO and the EU following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, while fewer believe neutrality protects Switzerland, a survey out Thursday showed.

Flags flutter in the wind outside Nato headquarters in Brussels. Photo: AP/Olivier Matthys
Flags flutter in the wind outside Nato headquarters in Brussels. Photo: AP/Olivier Matthys

An unprecedented 52 percent favour moving Switzerland closer to the Western alliance, though only 27 percent want to join.

Thirty-five percent now think joining a European defensive grouping would increase security more than maintaining neutrality — up 12 percent since January 2021.

EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Switzerland in NATO?

The Swiss military academy and the Centre for Security Studies — both attached to ETH Zurich university — publish an annual survey of public opinion on foreign, security and defence policy issues, to evaluate long-term trends.

The “Security 2022” study was conducted in January but the LINK polling institute also interviewed 1,003 voters by telephone between May 30 and June 17 following Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland’s long-standing position has been armed neutrality and the landlocked state has mandatory conscription for men.

Eighty-nine percent still support the principle of neutrality, but for the first time in more than 20 years, support has declined — down eight percent since January.

How much is too much? Understanding Switzerland’s cooperation with NATO

“Only 58 percent of the Swiss population remains convinced that neutrality protects Switzerland from international conflicts, compared to 69 percent in January,” said a government statement on the survey.

Eighty percent support Switzerland maintaining an army, while the proportion in favour of a fully-equipped army is at a record high 74 percent.

Thirty percent believe Switzerland spends too much on defence, but 19 percent think that spending is too low — up 12 percent at the highest level since the survey began in the 1980s.

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

Switzerland has decided to purchase 36 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet. The decision could be challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and anti-militarists keen to trigger a public vote.

A majority (58 percent) believe armed conflicts in Europe will now become more frequent. One in three report having become more anxious due to the war in Ukraine.

Switzerland has matched EU sanctions on Russia, saying it was not breaking military neutrality.

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UKRAINE

Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

Switzerland, a key refiner and manufacturer of gold bars, is banning imports of the precious metal from Russia, the government said Wednesday.

Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

The central government aligned itself with EU sanctions which, on July 21, added a ban on gold imports of Russian origin to the list of restrictions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ban came into effect at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Federal Council said in a statement.

Under the new sanctions, Switzerland forbids “buying, importing or transporting gold and gold products from Russia”, the statement said, adding that “services in connection with these goods are also prohibited”.

Traditionally neutral, Switzerland broke with its usual stance in the days after the start of the war in Ukraine by aligning itself with European Union economic sanctions.

In May, three tons of gold from Russia were imported from Britain, but it was not clear which company was responsible for bringing it to Switzerland, Bloomberg News reported.

The Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders in Precious Metals (ASFCMP), which represents the country’s largest refineries, contacted its members and said none of them were responsible for the imports.

The association insisted that “doubtful gold” had “no place in Switzerland” and urged its members to act “with the utmost caution”.

Swiss customs said at the time they were examining the imports in light of the sanctions, but insisted that gold imports from Russia were not banned.

While gold exports were already subject to sanctions, imports were not banned under the sanctions order, customs officials said.

The fourth package of sanctions imposed by the EU included luxury goods, banning the sale, supply, transfer or export of luxury goods to Russia, including gold, silver, pearls and diamonds.

But on July 21, the EU also explicitly added a ban on importing gold from Russia, including in the form of powder, debris or gold coins.

Switzerland has several refineries to recycle gold and melt ingots.

The sector employs 1,500 people, according to ASFCMP.

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