Swiss activist and have started this week to collect signatures for a referendum on the neutrality of the Alpine country. The right-wing activists are annoyed by the Swiss support for Ukraine.

They believe that the government should adhere more strictly to the traditional Switzerland aloofness and demand that a very strict version of this neutrality be enshrined in the Constitution. “Sign for total neutrality,” Action Committee ProSchweiz tweeted on Tuesday at the launch of the initiative.

The referendum plan shows how the war has reignited the debate about neutrality in Switzerland. At the end of February, a few days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Switzerland announced that, although it is not a member of the European Union, it will take over all EU sanctions against Russia. Billions of Russian assets in Swiss banks were frozen and trade in Russian raw materials was restricted.

It was not a really radical turnaround, contrary to what foreign media suggested in particular. In the last few years, the hard sides had already scrapped Swiss neutrality. Bern has also participated in sanctions against Iraq and the former Yugoslavia.

However, the move led to tensions in the government and parliament. Progressive supporters of the president praised the decision. They said that Switzerland could not remain aloof in such a gross violation of international law. But for the far-right Swiss People’s party (SVP), the country’s largest party, joining the European sanctions was unacceptable.

According to billionaire and politician Christoph Blocher, head of the SVP, the United States and the EU are in fact participating in the war with the sanctions. “Anyone who takes part in it becomes a party to the war,” Blocher said in an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. “The worse things get in the world, the more important neutrality becomes.”

Faced with this internal division, the Swiss government is now trying to find its way. For example, last week Bern promised another 100 million euros in assistance to Ukraine for the restoration of energy infrastructure. “Cooperative neutrality,” President Cassis calls it. But Ukraine’s pleas to seize frozen Russian billions and use them for the reconstruction of Ukraine are rejected by the government.

Countries that want to hand over Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine will not be allowed to do so by Switzerland. Swiss companies export quite a lot of defense equipment, but the government in Bern always stipulates as a condition that the items may not be handed over without Swiss approval. For example, Denmark at the moment does not receive permission to transfer Swiss-made armored vehicles to Ukraine.

“The Ukraine war puts the government in a very difficult position, ” says Stefanie Walter, professor of international relations at the University of Zurich. “Where do you draw the line? The government has decided to draw the line in the supply of weapons to countries at war, because that is prohibited under international law.”

The somewhat ambiguous diplomatic course leads to all kinds of friction. When it became known this week that Russia and the US may start new negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons, Moscow said that the talks – unlike before – can not take place in Geneva, because Switzerland is not impartial enough.

And big neighbor Germany is very annoyed by the Swiss refusal to agree to the re-delivery of ammunition to Ukraine. The Germans have committed fifty anti – aircraft guns – Cheetah type-to Ukraine to protect cities and infrastructure from Russian kamikaze drones and cruise missiles.

Those air defense guns, the first heavy weapons that Berlin delivered after months of hesitation, prove to be quite effective, but there is a risk of running out of ammunition. Germany still has more than 12,000 grenades in storage, but they were produced decades ago in Switzerland and Bern refuses to give permission for re-delivery to Ukraine.

About the author: Louise Roth

Louise Roth is the youngest member of WeeklyNewsReview team. Despite the young age Louise is interested in serious topics. Her main interests and education is all about economics and politics. But in our team she is the most productive do-it-all member, so she has to write on a variety of topics.

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