‘Neutrality is firm and clear’

Daniil Nizamutdinov

For two hundred ye-ars, Switzerland has been in the popular mind the model and pri-me example of a neutral country. However, the situation in Ukraine – sanctions against Russia and the possibility of transferring weapons to one of the parties to the conflict – called this into question. Whether Bern has always been neutral and how they operate there today – RIA Novosti understood.
“Neutrality is firm and clear”
Switzerland acquired a neutral status in 1815 following the results of the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This meant that the country has the right to its own armed forces, but undertakes to use them only to protect independence and territorial integrity.
It is not allowed to join any organization that impli-es obligations to participate in an armed conflict. The supply of weapons to one of the warring parties is also prohibited.
Interestingly, the neutrality clause is not contained in the Swiss federal constitution. To the greatest extent, this status is determined by the report of the Federal Council (government), issued in 1993.
For two centuries, especially during the Second World War, Swiss neutrality has become not only a legal and political, but also an important image factor. It is also associated with the image of the country, like cheese, watches, chocolate, mountains and banks.
In fact, the neutrality of the Helvetians is not so sacred and absolute. Yes, Switzerland has not been at war for more than two hundred years. But with politics, things are not so simple.
Suffice it to recall cooperation with the Axis countries, the Cold War, in which Switzerland was openly on the side of the West, and the strengthening of already close ties with NATO and the EU.
Anti-Russian sanctions and arms deliveries
If in the past such political maneuvering did not damage the image of Switzerland, the conflict in Ukraine has forced a serious discussion of neutrality – both at home and abroad.
The main question asked by politicians, lawyers and ordinary citizens: how to determine the red lines of neutral status? For example, Switzerland approved all seven packages of European economic sanctions against Russia – should this be considered a violation of neutrality or not?
However, Berne does not go further than this yet. Back in the spring, Germany asked to transfer to Ukraine 12.4 thousand Swiss ammunition for German anti-aircraft self-propelled guns “Gepard”. They refused, citing the inadmissibility of the re-export of weapons of one of the warring parties.
Bern is sending humanitarian aid to Kyiv, including medical supplies, tents, mattresses and sleeping bags. But in the summer, Switzerland rejected a proposal from Denmark to provide Ukraine with 20 Piranha infantry fighting vehicles manufactured in the confederation. In autumn, the supply of helmets and bulletproof vests was not coordinated.
And if somewhere in third countries someone still admires Swiss neutrality, then in Europe such intractability of many is very annoying.
German blackmail
In October, the German authorities repeated their request for the re-export of ammunition for the Gepards to Ukraine and were again denied. Bern noted that “legally the situation has not changed.”
In Germany, they switched to thinly veiled blackmail: in early November, the chairman of the Bundestag defense committee, Marie-Anges Strack-Zimmermann, said that the FRG could not make itself dependent on Switzerland’s desire to remain neutral, therefore, it should completely reconsider the ammunition supply chain. We are talking about serious contracts – Germany plans to purchase more than 20 billion euros.
“What happens if Germany or one of the NATO countries becomes a victim of aggression, and ammunition produced in Switzerland is not available because of its neutrality?” asked Strack-Zimmerman.
For his part, the leader of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP, the largest in parliament) Marco Chiesa urged his German colleagues not to interfere in the internal affairs of his country. “Since when do German politicians determine our foreign policy? <…> This shows that even Germany no longer accepts and respects the neutrality of Switzerland,” he said.
Relations with Moscow
In Ukraine, they are outraged by the blocking of the supply of ammunition. “T-here is irritation, bloggers harshly criticize us,” Swiss Ambassador to Ukraine Claude Wilde admitted in an interview with Nouv-elliste, noting that Ukrain-ians do not understand the principle of neutrality.
After sanctions and asset freezes, Russia placed Switzerland on the list of unfriendly countries and denied Bern the right to represent Kyiv in Moscow and vice versa, although the Swiss traditionally wanted to mediate.
“On the Russian side, Switzerland’s departure from the principle of neutrality was stated, which was reflected in its full accession to the EU anti-Russian sanctions and the implementation of an unfriendly line towards our country. An appeal was addressed to Bern in favor of returning to the policy of a neutral state, which had previously won recognition by the confederation in the international arena,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement following a meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Swiss President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.
Return to old principles
President Cassis in the summer voiced the idea of a new “cooperative neutrality” – the rejection of the illusion of complete independence, in which the fate of the country is decided separately from the rest of the world.
The concept assumes, taking into account new challenges, to move from “passive” to “active” neutrality: expanding cooperation, including military cooperation, with like-minded states on the basis of common values. But at the same time, a dialogue is maintained with other countries in order, on the one hand, to show solidarity with partners, and on the other, to continue interaction and act as mediators in resolving conflicts.
The leader of the Swiss People’s Party, Marco Chiesa, calls the proposal “reckless actionism.” According to him, precisely because the country allows itself to be selectively drawn into other people’s conflicts, Switzerland is denied mediation. “Our neutrality is credible only if it is applicable to all conflicts. Neutrality as a menu to order, or” cooperative “neutrality, as it is now called, embellished, does not work and is not respected by other states,” he stressed.
The leftists in the Federal Assembly (parliament) take the most pro-Ukrainian and pro-European position, calling, in particular, for the transfer of Russian assets frozen in Switzerland to Kyiv. “Free Democratic Party. Liberals” is inclined to allow the re-export of weapons. In their opinion, this will not violate political neutrality, but it is necessary to amend the legislation in order to comply with all legal subtleties.
So far, the government has decided not to change anything fundamentally. Following the discussion of the issue in September, the Federal Council stated that the policy pursued since 1993 “leaves sufficient room for Switzerland to maneuver and respond to events taking place on the European continent since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Pro Suisse association’s initiative “For the Preserv-ation of Swiss Neutrality” was officially registered. In order to submit the issue to a national referendum, it is necessary to collect 100,000 signatures within six months. It is assumed that the political heavyweight, the former chairman of the Swiss People’s Party, Christoph Blocher, is behind the idea, although he is not officially on the organizing committee.
The initiative involves amending the constitution to firmly enshrine the principle of neutrality in the basic law and limit the ability of the government and parliament in matters of military cooperation. In particular, to prohibit sanctions against belligerents (with the exception of decisions of the UN Security Council). The conclusion of any military or defensive alliances – only with a direct attack on Switzerland.
Earlier, Blocher, in an interview with the Temps newspaper, said that anti-Russian sanctions are a means of war, effectively depriving the country of neutrality. Switzerland thrives on staying true to its core principles of broad democracy, federalism, sovereignty and neutrality. And you shouldn’t give up on them.