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US ambassador laments slow progress on freezing Russian assets in Switzerland

US ambassador
Scott Miller took up his post as US Ambassador to Switzerland in 2021. © Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

US ambassador to Switzerland Scott Miller has urged Switzerland to step up efforts to implement sanctions against Russia and support Ukraine by allowing the re-export of Swiss-made war materiel.

“Switzerland is in the most serious crisis since the Second World War. It is confronted with what neutrality means,” said Miller in an interviewExternal link in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Thursday. “We understand and respect it. But it is not a static construct. Switzerland can’t call itself neutral and allow one or both sides to exploit its laws to their own advantage.”

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His comments come amid heated debate in Switzerland over demands from European countries to allow Swiss-made war materiel to be re-exported to Ukraine. Swiss laws on neutrality forbid the export of armaments to countries embroiled in civil war or in armed conflict with another state.

The Swiss government has thus far rejected demands to change the law. However, debates continue in parliament. Miller urged Switzerland to allow re-exports, arguing the ban “benefits the aggressor, who violates all principles of international law.”

Sanctions enforcement

Miller said that Switzerland could and should do more to enforce sanctions, including freezing Russian assets. The Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) believes it is doing enough to implement sanctions but “I think we still have a lot of work to do”, Miller said. He expressed concern about some recent statements by SECO chief Helene Budliger that implied there were some doubts about the usefulness of sanctions.

A key area where Switzerland could do more concerns Russian assets. US authorities are aware of around CHF7.75 billion ($8.37 billion) in Russian assets held in Swiss banks that have been frozen. “Switzerland could block an additional CHF50-100 billion,” said Miller.

“Sanctions are only as strong as the political will behind them. We need to find as many assets as possible, freeze them and, if necessary, confiscate them in order to make them available to Ukraine for reconstruction,” he added.

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He urged Switzerland to participate in the taskforce on Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs of the Western countries. This would allow the country to be part of the discussion on how to recover these funds within the framework of international law.

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