Switzerland on Thursday added Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to its sanctions list following a similar move by the European Union last week.
Wagner forces have been leading offensives in eastern Ukraine, including the city of Bakhmut, which has become the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s military campaign.
“The Wagner group is a Russia-based military organization which, under the leadership of Yevgeny Prigozhin, serves as an instrument of Russian hybrid warfare,” the Swiss economy ministry said.
“While its legal nature is unclear, the Wagner group forms part of a complex network of global companies (operating in a range of sectors including aviation, security, technology, commodity trading, financial services and influencing activities) which are linked through overlapping ownership structures and logistics networks,” it said in a statement.
Headed by Kremlin-linked businessman Prigozhin, Wagner was founded in 2014. It has been implicated in conflicts in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
Switzerland is not in the EU but has matched the bloc’s sanctions on Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Landlocked Switzerland’s long-standing position is one of well-armed, strict military neutrality.
Despite pressure from Kyiv and its allies, Bern has refused to allow countries that hold Swiss-made weaponry to re-export it to Ukraine.
Matching another EU move, Switzerland also slapped sanctions on RIA FAN, a Russian media outlet that is part of the Patriot Media Group, whose board of trustees is led by Prigozhin, noting its “dissemination of pro-government propaganda and disinformation.”
While the EU imposed a broadcasting and advertising ban on television channels RT Arabic and Sputnik Arabic on April 10, Bern said they would not be blocked in Switzerland but an advertising ban would kick in.
“Both channels play a significant role in the Russian government’s systematic international campaign of media manipulation and falsification of facts,” it said.
However, Bern feels “it is more effective to counter untrue and harmful statements with facts rather than to ban them outright.”