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Garry Kasparov: ‘Switzerland is not ready to take the necessary steps’


How effective are Western sanctions against Russia? What role does Switzerland play in the war against Ukraine? We put these questions to President Vladimir Putin’s harshest critics. Our series ends with Garry Kasparov.

Switzerland plays an important role as a traditional safe haven for Russian assets and a trading hub for Russian commodities. It must not hide behind its neutrality but should actively help to ensure that the Russian war regime runs out of resources. That is the consensus among all the opinion leaders in the Russian opposition to whom SWI spoke.

For this interview series, we contacted the most relevant voices currently speaking up against the Kremlin. Most of them had to leave the country because of their vocal opposition. Putin opponent and former chess champion Garry Kasparov now lives in Croatia; entrepreneur Leonid Nevzlin fled to Israel; economist Sergei Guriev moved to France; and economist Sergey Aleksashenko now lives in Washington. Opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza has been in Russian custody since April.

Garry Kasparov is a former world chess champion, writer and political activist. From 1984 until his retirement in 2005, Kasparov was the top-ranked chess player in the world for a record 255 months in total. He created the United Civil Front movement and in February 2022 he joined The Anti-War Committee, a group of exiled Russian public figures opposed to Putin’s war in Ukraine. In 2013 he revealed he had left Russia out of fear of persecution.

SWI: Mr Kasparov, how long can Russia’s economy withstand western sanctions?

Garry Kasparov: The economy of Putin’s Russia does not have infinite capabilities, and the socio-economic situation will be close to catastrophe by next spring. And this is despite the fact that the sanctions only now have really started working.

Sanctions have definitely weakened Russia’s economy. They can stop the invasion but will not be sufficient to force Putin to change his mind and withdraw from Ukraine completely. Instead, the goal of the sanctions is to limit Russia’s capacity to wage this war, to force rather than convince Putin to put a halt to this invasion. Some success has already been achieved to this day but the experience of the last six months tells us there is much more that needs to be done. 

SWI: How do you see Switzerland’s role? 

G.K.: Switzerland, thanks to its important position in the international financial system and banking sector, could play an important role in smothering Putin’s regime. It is widely known that during more than 20 years of Putin in power, most of the money obtained by his cronies has been placed in bank accounts in the West, including Switzerland, obviously.

Any technology that helps Russia’s economy also ends up helping Putin kill Ukrainians. 

SWI: How can Switzerland influence the situation?

G.K.: Today, it could be an important step to freeze and confiscate the assets belonging to persons affiliated with Putin’s regime and use the proceeds to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine. However, such decisions would require political will. Despite some improvements in its position toward sanctions against Russia, it is obvious that the Swiss government is not ready to take such steps. 

SWI: So you do believe in the effectiveness of sanctions. Why?

G.K.: The way this situation has been unfolding over the years has shown us the cynicism of many Western politicians, who during the eight years that followed the annexation of Crimea kept repeating that any serious sanctions would not be feasible. Over these years, no one has shown Putin that aggression would cost him a very high price. But suddenly, just half a year has been enough to put in place sanctions that would cause serious problems for Putin, meaning it has always been possible. 

Putin Mobilmachung
Garry Kasparov: “You have to force Putin to stop the invasion, he won’t be persuaded.” Russian Presidential Press Service

SWI: What should the West do if it wants the war to end with Putin’s defeat?

G.K.: Targeted export control of strategic technologies has proved especially efficient since it has been limiting Russia’s ability to replenish stocks of high-precision weaponry. Over time, this reduction in the supply of high-tech components will weaken the country’s military potential.

SWI: So you’re not only talking about armour components…

G.K.: Russia should be cut from importing any high-tech goods whatsoever, since almost any technology can be put to double use. Any technology that helps Russia’s economy also ends up helping Putin kill Ukrainians. 

SWI: To which areas can the sanctions be further extended?

G.K.: The West must increase pressure on companies that still do business in Russia. Any foreign company that helps the Russian war machine, be it by simply paying their taxes there, must also face sanctions. And the international community must also pressure countries such as Turkey, Georgia and Kazakhstan, which at the moment are helping Russia to avoid sanctions, to stop their participation in such trafficking.

SWI: What about the oligarchs?

G.K.: Personalised sanctions against Russian individuals have led to tangible and sustainable results. Russian oligarchs are ready to go to great lengths to avoid being included on sanctions lists, which is proof of their effectiveness. 

SWI: How long are the sanctions of the West to be maintained?

G.K.: An important measure that must be taken by the West now is to clearly state that no sanctions would be lifted unless the following conditions are met: Ukraine must resume its sovereignty over the entire recognised territory, Crimea and Sevastopol included; Russia must pay reparations to Ukraine; and Russian war criminals must be brought to justice. The leaders of the free world should not yield to the temptation of partial sanctions relief in exchange for a partial reduction of Russia’s military activity in Ukraine. And no sanctions should be lifted without Ukraine’s agreement.

Ukrainians displaced by war Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

SWI: These are obvious and quite strict conditions. Will the West be willing to do this?

G.K.: Widening and maintaining sanctions will cost dearly to the countries of the West – to the United States, Canada and Europe. But this is the price that must be paid for decades of complacency in the face of authoritarian, imperialist methods used by Putin. Free countries are lucky to be paying this toll only with money, while Ukraine pays with the lives of its citizens. 

Edited by Balz Rigendinger/gw

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR