Switzerland set to freeze Russian assets, president hints
Update: Since the publication of this article, the Federal Council has announced that they will be joining sanctions imposed by the European Union from February 28. You can read more about it here.
The President of Switzerland, Ignazio Cassis, has said it is “very probable” that Switzerland will impose sanctions on Russia and freeze Russian assets after its invasion of Ukraine. The Federal Council will make a decision on Monday, as plans are drawn up to hold a peace conference in Geneva.
Swiss sanctions on Russia to be announced on Monday
In an interview given to RTS, Cassis confirmed that the Federal Council will be meeting on Monday to discuss and confirm whether Switzerland will follow sanctions announced by the EU and freeze the assets of some Russian individuals and firms. In the interview, Cassis said that it is “very probable that the government will decide to do so.”
Data from the Swiss National Bank shows that Russians hold 10,4 billion Swiss francs in Switzerland, through banks and insurance firms. Up until this point, Switzerland has been more hesitant in imposing sanctions on Russia, instead choosing to maintain its neutrality and offer itself as a mediator.
Switzerland under increased pressure to sanction Russia over Ukraine
However, the Swiss government is facing increased pressure from the public, with 20.000 people taking to the streets of Bern on Saturday to protest the Russian invasion and Switzerland's hesitancy to impose sanctions. There are also concerns that the country could be used to “circumvent” sanctions made by the European Union.
While Ignazio Casiss said Switzerland must preserve their neutrality, it “does not prevent us from calling a spade a spade.” He emphasised that regardless of sanctions, Switzerland stood ready as a host for diplomatic talks if negotiations between the Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian delegations do not succeed.
Geneva expected to host Ukraine-Russia peace conference
On Saturday, Tamedia reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Cassis, who is also the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, to organise a peace conference in Geneva with the Russians, with a goal to agree on a ceasefire. As the UN Human Rights Council is already set to meet in Geneva on February 28 and February 29, the event is seen as an ideal time to set up a conference.
Alongside promises of a conference, the Swiss government confirmed that Ukrainian refugees would be welcomed in Switzerland “for a transitional period.” Whether this will mean a temporary visa or residence permit is yet to be confirmed, but the Justice Minister, Karin Keller-Sutter, said, “We will not leave people in the lurch.”