Switzerland blocks transfer of arms from Spain to Ukraine

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Switzerland said Friday it had blocked Spain from sending Swiss-made anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine, in line with its strict military neutrality.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) “has rejected a request from Spain made on January 16, 2023, concerning the re-export of two 35-millimetre anti-aircraft guns originating from Switzerland,” spokesman Fabian Maienfisch told AFP in an email.

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This marks the third time Bern has blocked the transfer of Swiss-made arms to war-ravaged Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion a year ago.

It previously turned down a request from Germany to send Swiss-made anti-aircraft defense munitions to Ukraine, and from Denmark to send 22 Swiss Piranha III tanks.

States purchasing war material from Switzerland are obliged to sign a so-called non-re-export declaration.

This aims to ensure there is no breach of Switzerland’s War Material Act, which prohibits the export of arms to countries involved in an international armed conflict.

Maienfisch said Switzerland had examined Spain’s request to waive the non-re-export obligation, as it had with the requests from Germany and Denmark.

“With reference to the principle of equal treatment under the law of neutrality and... the War Material Act, the requests were answered negatively by Switzerland,” he said.

While sticking to this principle, the Swiss government did decide last June that individual parts and assembly packages could be delivered to European defense companies even if they will be used to produce war material that might later be transferred to Ukraine.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Swiss government’s decision to follow the European Union’s lead on sanctions targeting Moscow have breathed new life into debates around the wealthy Alpine country’s deeply engrained neutrality.

Several initiatives are under way in parliament towards relaxing the re-export rules to make it possible for Swiss war material to be transferred via third countries to Ukraine.

Any decision is likely months away.

The Swiss arms industry meanwhile is eager to see such a change, warning that without a more flexible approach, countries may look elsewhere for their weapons supplies.

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