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Swiss exports of dual-use goods to Ukraine increase sharply

dual use goods
What does Swiss neutrality say about dual-use goods that can be used for both civil and military purposes? © Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Official statistics show that Swiss exports of dual-use goods to Ukraine have risen significantly in the first quarter of 2023, sparking questions about Switzerland’s stance on neutrality.

Switzerland exported CHF2.7 million worth of dual-use goods, those that can be used for civil and military purposes, to Ukraine in the fourth quarter of 2022 and CHF4.5 million in the first quarter of 2023. This is much more than the few thousand francs exported in the first quarter of 2022, writesExternal link the SonntagsZeitung.

+ Neutrality as a business strategy for the Swiss arms industry

This includes CHF2 million for machine tools and laser cutting machines, as well as encryption technology and diesel generators for international organisations. Another CHF600,000 worth of mine clearing equipment was also approved for export by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

At the same time, exports of dual-use goods to Russia fell. Exports were only worth CHF190,00 in the most recent quarter compared to CHF5.6 million in 2022.

The reason for the difference is that there is a ban on the export of dual-use goods to Russia under the sanctions regime but not for Ukraine.  

The only export of dual-use goods to Russia was for spare parts for rail vehicles, which was possible under a transitional provision in the sanctions.

There is an export ban for Ukraine, but this only applies to goods that are “intended in whole or in part for military purposes or for military end recipients”, states the federal law. The export of other dual-use items is still allowed.

The different treatment of Ukraine compared to Russia has sparked criticism by some politicians who argue that under Swiss neutrality all parties at war should be treated equally.  

However, different rules regarding Ukraine and Russia are “legally permissible,” Evelyne Schmid, a law professor at the University of Lausanne, told SonntagsZeitung. “Anything non-military is not included and Switzerland is free to make this distinction in the civil sector.”

RUAG MRO chief under pressure

Brigitte Beck, who is the CEO of state-owned RUAG MRO Holding, also waded into the debate on dual-use goods during a panel discussion on May 2 that has been posted online, writesExternal link the NZZamSonntag. She indicated that there are risks with dual-use goods because in the technology field, almost everything such as a smartphone or satellites can be used for military purposes.

Statements on neutrality by Beck during the discussion as well as in an interview with CH-Media earlier this month have sparked debate in political circles. “If NATO intervenes in a conflict and we can no longer supply NATO because of our neutrality, I am deeply concerned,” Beck said during the discussion. Some right-wing politicians criticised the statements for not aligning with the official government position. Beck said that she was expressing her personal opinion.

RUAG MRO Holding Ltd provides all security-related services for the Swiss Armed Forces. This primarily involves maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as the upkeep of mission-relevant systems such as the fighter jets. The Swiss Confederation is the sole shareholder of RUAG MRO.

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