Fury and dismay: How Switzerland reacted to the invasion of Ukraine
Switzerland woke on the morning of February 24 to the news that Russia had launched a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine. The conflict was met with distress and condemnation by the Swiss public and the government, who now face a difficult choice over what measures to take next.
Russia-Ukraine conflict escalates to a full invasion
In the early hours of February 24, Russian forces began shelling areas around major Ukrainian cities and military installations. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced the beginning of a military operation in the region, and there have been unconfirmed reports and videos of Russian troops moving through checkpoints on the Russo-Ukrainian border, the Belorussian border and in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa.
The move comes after months of heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine, particularly over the Donbas region, which is currently under the control of Russian-backed separatists. In a televised statement over the weekend, the Russian President recognised these states as independent while questioning the legitimacy of a Ukrainian state, seen by many as the prelude to an invasion.
Swiss government demands Russia withdraw from Ukraine
In Switzerland, the news was met with dismay among citizens and in the media. Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, currently under the control of the president of Switzerland, Ignazio Cassis, said the country condemned the Russian invasion “in the strongest terms.” Describing the military operation as a "gross violation of international law" and saying it feared for the safety of civilians, Switzerland urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory.
The mayor of Bern, Alec von Graffenried, said he was “speechless” and called it “a black day for Europe.” People across Swiss cities sent out their support for Ukraine and for the over 6.700 residence permit holders from Ukraine that live in Switzerland.
Anger and dismay grips Swiss public over Ukraine
There was also anger, with former national councillor Bernhard Guhl saying that the whole crisis could have been avoided if Europe had stood up to Russia, asserting, "Millions are displaced, thousands die because Europe was too cowardly to support Ukraine with military might." Others called for the Federal Council to act now to sanction Russia in tandem with the EU, US and UK.
On February 24, the Federal Council announced that it was cancelling its press conference on the state of relations with the EU and has instead declared a special session to discuss events. It is likely that Switzerland will announce sanctions on entrepreneurs and international companies with ties to the Kremlin, and may even follow the EU’s lead in announcing further, wide-ranging sanctions.
According to reporting from 20 minuten, although sanctions from Switzerland are unlikely to impact the wider Russian economy on their own, Switzerland can choose to restrict access to banking and financial services to individuals with strong ties to the Kremlin. Whatever Switzerland chooses, the lights in the federal palace in Bern will burn brightly tonight.