To prevent Russia from skirting international sanctions via Switzerland, the Swiss government has taken additional steps to reflect sanctions imposed by the EU in connection to the Ukraine crisis.
Taking effect on Wednesday, the new measures strengthen the ordinance that Switzerland adopted in April. The policies – outlined in detail in a statement – affect the finance sector and items requiring an export licence, in particular military supplies and dual-use goods that could be used for civilian as well as military purposes. There is also a ban on imports of such goods from Russia and Ukraine. Another embargo applies to the import and export of key goods used to extract oil and gas.
In addition, the cabinet “acknowledged the measures taken by Russia in respect of agricultural goods” and stressed that “Switzerland is not engaged in any state measures to promote additional Swiss exports to Russia”.
The cabinet said it would continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine closely, reserving “the right to take further measures depending on how the situation develops”.
Up to now it has insisted on maintaining its neutrality and – as a non-EU country – decided not to implement the same sanctions on Russia as the EU. Switzerland holds this year’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe, and in this role acts as a mediator in the talks between Russia and Ukraine.
Both Russia and EU members have criticised Switzerland for not implementing the EU sanctions. Reports in the Russian media have said Switzerland was used to undermine the European sanctions, notably after Moscow abruptly closed access for EU food producers to the Russian market with its 140 million consumers.
The Izvestia newspaper has hinted that Switzerland, which is not targeted by Moscow’s punitive measures, serves as a backdoor to circumvent the sanctions.
On Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry reacted to the Swiss move with criticism.
"We regard these decisions taken by Bern as groundless and demonstrating that the Swiss side, to the detriment of its own interests, continues to follow the unfriendly steps by the United States and the European Union towards Russia," it said in a statement.