Why Switzerland refuses to take in injured Ukrainian soldiers

Despite considerable support for Ukraine and financial sanctions levied against Russia, the Swiss government will not take in and treat injured Ukrainian soldiers. Here’s why.

Switzerland's President and head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Ignazio Cassis (Photo by Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP)
Switzerland's President and head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Ignazio Cassis (Photo by Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP)

Swiss government denied NATO’s request to take in Ukrainians injured in the war, Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper revealed on Monday.

The reason for the refusal: neutrality.

READ MORE: Switzerland mulls ‘neutrality referendum’ amid Ukraine backlash

According to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), the 1949 Geneva Conventions, key documents in the international law of war, contain a special provision for neutral states.

The provision states that in the event a neutral country treats soldiers wounded in battle, it must ensure that they, “can no longer take part in war operations” — something that Switzerland has no say in.

The FDFA prefers to bring its aid directly to Ukraine, by supporting the hospitals there,  Tages-Anzeiger reported.

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

The history of Swiss neutrality

Along with cheese, chocolate and watches, neutrality ranks as one of Switzerland’s trademarks. 

While Switzerland is far from the world’s only neutral country, it is perhaps the best-known example. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to impose sanctions on Russia

Switzerland adopted its position of “perpetual neutrality” after the last war in which it took part ended in 1815 with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. 

Throughout world wars and regional conflicts, Switzerland’s neutrality has been frequently tested but has remained a trademark of the Alpine nation’s foreign policy.  

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

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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.