Switzerland says it will freeze Russian assets

GENEVA – Switzerland, a favorite destination for wealthy Russians and their money, announced on Monday that it would freeze Russian financial assets in the country, putting aside its long-established tradition of neutrality to join the European Union and a growing number of countries seeking to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.

After a meeting with the Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland’s President, Ignacio Cassis, said the country would immediately freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail V. Mishustin, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as all 367 individuals who were sanctioned by the European Union for the week. Past.

Switzerland said it was moving away from its usual policy of neutrality due to the “unprecedented military attack by Russia on a sovereign European country”, but expressed its willingness to help mediate the conflict. It also joined its European neighbors in closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, except for humanitarian or diplomatic purposes. But it said it would assess whether to join subsequent EU sanctions on a case-by-case basis.

The Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva said on Twitter that Lavrov, who was due to be in Geneva on Tuesday to address the UN Human Rights Council, will no longer make the flight due to the flight ban.

Swiss National Bank data showed that Russian companies and individuals held more than $11 billion in assets in Swiss banks in 2020. As a global commodity trading hub, Switzerland also hosts many companies that trade in Russian oil and other commodities.

The decision came amid growing condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which saw thousands of anti-war protesters march in the Swiss capital of Bern at the weekend. Protesters chanted for an end to “Putin’s war” and criticized the government’s initially cautious response to the crisis.

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Switzerland has a reputation for neutrality that has made Geneva the home of the United Nations and host to peace talks in many conflicts, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam. More recently, Geneva was the venue for last year’s summit between President Biden and Mr. Putin.

Mr. Cassis expressed concern that the Alpine nation’s credibility as a neutral diplomatic mediator would be damaged if it followed suit automatically with EU sanctions. Initially, Switzerland said last week it would impose travel bans on Russians on the European Union’s sanctions list and prevent Swiss banks from accepting new Russian money – but it stopped short of cutting individuals’ access to their bank accounts.

Since then, pictures of bloodied Ukrainian civilians and The bombed-out apartments provoked popular anger against Russia, and Switzerland adopted a tougher tone. Mr. Cassis told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law.

“There was no provocation that could justify such an intervention,” he said.

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