The President of the Confederation answered questions from readers on global political news, specifically on the war in Ukraine and on sanctions against Russia.
- Sandro Spaeth
- Yannick Weber
How do you stay informed about the situation in Ukraine? Through the media? Or do you have an intelligence service bulletin?
I have many channels. There are intelligence services, but so are all Swiss diplomats. They watch everything that is said, anywhere in the world. There are also media, of course, that allow you to find out if a situation is changing rapidly. Finally, the weekly discussions with my colleagues from the Federal Council, each with information relevant to their department.
Can you wake up in the middle of the night of your services? Have you ever turned off your smartphone?
Of course. For example, on February 24, I woke up at 4am to be informed of the Russian invasion.
Last week, a U.S. congressional committee lashed out at Switzerland, accusing it of being Putin’s accomplice. What was your reaction?
More than reacting, I acted. I immediately called United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken. This position is not acceptable. He recalled that it came from a commission independent of the government and the state of our relationship remains intact.
Switzerland is said to hold a total of 200 billion francs of Russian assets. However, only 7.5 billion were blocked. Aren’t you afraid for Switzerland’s reputation?
Not really. Two different things should not be mixed: money is not a problem because it is Russian, money is a problem when it is owned by oligarchs. Eight billion are frozen. On the contrary, I have heard praise from abroad about the Swiss reaction.
Now for the questions from our readers. Elvira asked what you think of the idea of using Russia’s fixed assets to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine.
First, we must know when the war will end. Today, the cost of the reconstruction is estimated at 600 billion dollars. We can use freezing them for that, but that is called expropriation. Ownership is a central value in our society. To take away from someone what they have requires laws, perhaps even a change in the Constitution. It’s so far away. This has not yet been discussed by the Federal Council. But because of the values in question, international coordination is still needed.
Rene asked. Why doesn’t Switzerland remain neutral? By enforcing sanctions, we sided with the United States.
I can assure René: we remain neutral. Neutrality has a kernel, this is the law. It prevents us from four things: declaring war, joining a military alliance, exporting war materials to a country involved in a war and allowing troops or war material to pass through Switzerland. This is the law of neutrality. Then there is the policy of neutrality. And the violation of international law is so serious that we cannot remain silent.
Question given under the pseudonym of William Tell: why do you take penalties without first consulting people?
Switzerland imposes sanctions based on laws, laws accepted by the people. They said Switzerland should continue UN sanctions. For this, he has no choice. On the other hand, it has the choice of whether or not to accept EU sanctions. In recent years, Switzerland has taken more than three quarters of sanctions in Europe.
Question from Jörg: Why didn’t Switzerland, for example, Saudi Arabia, kill critics of the regime?
Because neither the UN nor the EU has taken any sanctions against this country. Only a handful of Saudi citizens are targeted by European sanctions. We did not take them back.
Question from Petra: what do you think of PLR President Thierry Burkhart’s proposal to deliver Swiss weapons to Ukraine?
This is prohibited by the law on neutrality, this is one of its basic principles. We cannot do this without first changing the law.
Did Volodymyr Zelensky invite you to Ukraine, whom you called a friend?
It wouldn’t make sense for him to invite me if we can phone each other regularly. It is a symbolic political work that, for me, at present, does not matter. The most important work is done behind the scenes and there is no public visibility.