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Switzerland to hold referendum on Russia sanctions

Swiss activists are seeking to restore the country’s historic neutrality

Swiss activists backed by the country’s top political party have filed a petition with enough signatures to trigger a referendum that could enshrine Bern’s neutrality in the constitution and potentially restore the country’s economic ties with Moscow.

The so-called “Neutrality Initiative” signed by over 130,000 residents was officially filed on Thursday, according to Swissinfo. The proposal would define Switzerland’s neutrality as “perpetual and armed,” and explicitly prohibit the country from joining “any military or defense alliance,” unless directly attacked.

The proposed constitutional amendment would also prevent the government from imposing or joining any form of “non-military coercive measures” and sanctions, unless mandated by the UN Security Council. However, Bern would still reserve obligations to prevent circumvention of sanctions imposed by other states.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Switzerland no longer neutral – Moscow

Switzerland has maintained a policy of neutrality since 1815, and did not take sides in either of the two world wars. While not officially a member of any international blocs, such as the EU or NATO, Switzerland has nevertheless joined nearly all of the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow, frozen billions of dollars’ worth of its assets, and actively supported Kiev following the launch of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine in 2022.

According to Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, the Swiss government has abandoned its neutrality by adopting a national security strategy that aims to develop European security “not with Russia, but against it.”

Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, Bern has sent economic aid to Kiev, but has refused to supply weapons or allow other countries to send Swiss arms or ammunition. Some members of the Swiss government have been calling for the relaxation of this policy, but the Swiss People’s party (SVP) and the Social Democrats (SP) have been critical of such suggestions.

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Electoral workers empty a ballot box during the Swiss federal election on October 22, 2023, Bern, Switzerland
Pro-neutrality party wins Swiss election

The SVP, which campaigned on a pro-neutrality and anti-immigration platform, emerged as the main winner in the general election in October, garnering 28.6% of the vote. The Social SP, which supports a less strict neutrality but firmly opposes entry into military blocs, trailed behind with 18%.

The SVP said on Thursday that sanctions against Russia “are endangering the internal peace and stability of our country,” welcoming news of the referendum. “If all states behaved like Switzerland, there would be no war,” the party said.

The neutrality initiative also calls on Switzerland to act as a mediator and use its “perpetual neutrality to prevent and resolve conflicts.” Bern wants to host a major peace conference on the Ukraine conflict sometime this year, reportedly inviting up to 100 nations, mostly from the Global South, to attend.

READ MORE: Ukraine peace talks ‘pointless’ without Russia – Kremlin

However, Moscow has called the conference that Bern is suggesting “pointless” and has indicated it has no intention of participating, even if officially invited. Russia said the forum as envisaged would be dedicated to the promotion of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s ultimatum, which Moscow has panned as unrealistic. The Kremlin has repeatedly stressed it remains open to discussions, but only if Kiev recognizes the “reality on the ground.”

April 12, 2024 at 06:23AM

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