Arms Shipments - A Choice Between Traditional Neutrality and Solidarity with Ukraine
(Source: Neue Zuricher Zeitung; published Nov. 07, 2022)
By Pavlo Klimkin and Boris Ruge (Unofficial translation)
Citing its neutrality, Switzerland has again rejected a request from Germany to re-export to Ukraine 35mm ammunition for the Gepard anti-aircraft guns. This ammunition would not decide the outcome of the war, but supplying it would save lives in Ukraine. (German MoD photo)
On February 25 this year, a day after Russia's recent invasion of Ukraine, a press agency quoted President Zelensky as saying: "I need ammunition, not a ride." More than eight months later, nothing has changed: Zelensky (like so many of his compatriots) is holding the fort, and Ukraine still urgently needs ammunition.

One type that tops the list is 35mm ammo for the Gepard anti-aircraft tank. Germany made 30 of these available to Ukraine and trained Ukrainian personnel. The Ukrainian armed forces are successfully using the cheetah, particularly to secure ongoing grain exports as part of the UN's Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Joint request of Kiev and Berlin

As early as the summer, an initial request to Bern for the re-export of 35 mm ammunition that had been in Germany for decades was rejected, as was a request from the Danish government for the delivery of wheeled armored vehicles. The Swiss government argued that approvals would violate Swiss neutrality. Kyiv and Berlin recently jointly asked again to allow the re-export of this ammunition, which is hardly available anymore. The Swiss government has now rejected this again.

Switzerland should seize the opportunity to review this policy.

Russia's war against Ukraine did not start in February 2022, but eight years earlier. However, the renewed invasion, which began on February 24 of this year, dwarfs anything seen before in scope and brutality. Bucha, Kharkiv and Mariupol stand for systematic destruction and massive crimes against the civilian population, including the deportation of hundreds of thousands of children and adults. As if that weren't enough, Russia has held millions hostage around the world by blocking grain exports, destroying croplands and stealing grain.

In the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Russian actions have repeatedly been condemned by overwhelming majorities. In October, 143 member states passed a resolution calling on Russia to reverse the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions. Ukrainian forces have successively pushed back Russia's army in recent months. In response, Putin's troops have launched attacks on civilians and infrastructure. Without better air defenses, Moscow, like Aleppo, will reduce one Ukrainian city after another to heaps of rubble and unleash new waves of refugees heading west.

How did Germany react to Russia's war of aggression?

Before February 24, Ukraine was refused arms. The federal government also rejected requests from allies to re-export German material. Berlin only changed its position with Chancellor Scholz's speech to the Bundestag on February 27.

Since then, the federal government has supplied, increasingly heavy weapons. There is still criticism that Germany must deliver more and faster. What is important, however, is that Germany has (albeit not lightly) jumped over its shadow and is now making an important military contribution to Ukraine's survival. That's what it's all about.

Politically, Switzerland has taken a clear stance against Russia's aggression: on February 28, it joined the EU sanctions against Russia. She has repeatedly taken a position in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Moscow has put on record that it no longer considers Switzerland to be neutral.

Alone in Swiss hands

For outsiders, Swiss neutrality and its implementation in practice is not always easy to understand. One thing is clear: it is an expression of a long-standing attitude. It is also clear that any adjustment is solely in Swiss hands. Legally, there seem to be options that would allow anti-aircraft ammunition to be re-exported.

Ultimately, it is about a choice between traditional neutrality and solidarity with Ukraine. Whatever it turns out to be, it will point the way for Switzerland's future position. It will also affect the prospects of the Swiss armaments industry (German companies can tell you a lot about the long-term effects of a highly restrictive export policy).

The munitions in question will not in themselves decide the outcome of the war. However, your delivery would save lives in Ukraine and help secure grain exports, on which many more lives depend. The turning point, i.e. the fundamental change in the international environment, also affects Switzerland. It demands difficult decisions. Switzerland should meet them in terms of their values and their long-term interests. (ends)


About the authors:
Pavlo Klimkin was Ukraine's Foreign Minister from 2014 to 2019, Boris Ruge is Deputy Chairman of the Munich Security Conference.


The original article was posted in German on the NZZ website, and can be read here.

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