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Swiss parliament backs measures to confiscate frozen Russian assets for Ukraine reconstruction

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 8, 2024 1:59 PM 2 min read
The Federal Palace, Switzerland's parliament building, in Bern, Switzerland, March 2023. (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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The upper house of the Swiss parliament voted on March 7 to approve three measures that would open the door for the future confiscation of Russian state assets frozen in Switzerland and redirect them to Ukraine's reconstruction. The lower house has already voted for the measures.

Western countries and other partners immobilized around $300 billion of the Russian Central Bank's assets at the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

Debates over the legality of channeling these funds into Ukraine's reconstruction have prevented allies from transferring the money, but ongoing delays in U.S. military aid have prompted heightened urgency.

The Swiss government estimated in December 2023 that it had frozen $8.8 billion in Russian state assets as part of its sanctions against Russia. The figure is much smaller than the total amount of money from Russian nationals and legal entities held by Swiss banks, which was estimated by the Swiss government to be around $48.15 billion.

The Swiss government previously said in February 2023 that it would not confiscate Russian assets held in the country because it was against the country's constitution and could "violate Switzerland's international obligations."

Now that both houses of Switzerland's parliament have endorsed the measures, the government will try to obtain a legal framework grounded in international law to proceed with redirecting the funds.

"Russia has seriously violated international law. It must therefore repair the damage caused," Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told parliament.

"International discussions are under way regarding compensation mechanisms and Switzerland is participating with its knowledge, its skills, and all its history in this area."

Switzerland, a historically neutral country, has supported Ukraine with economic and humanitarian aid since the beginning of the full-scale invasion but has refrained from sending military support.

A Swiss law prevents the export of Swiss weapons to combat zones, even when supplied by an intermediary country.

Bloomberg: Seizure of frozen Russian assets legal, experts say
A letter signed by international legal experts argues that the seizure of frozen Russian central bank assets to aid Ukraine would be lawful given Russia’s “ongoing breach of the most fundamental rules of international law,” Bloomberg reported on Feb. 21.
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