Switzerland announces it will freeze assets of Putin, Lavrov and other wealthy Russians

(Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP, file)

If you’re a wealthy Russian, where would you choose to keep your money? The answer for many has been to deposit it a Swiss bank account.

The rich Alpine nation has been the biggest recipient of transactions by Russian private individuals — ahead of Britain, Spain, Luxembourg and the United States, according to a report compiled by the Swiss Embassy in Moscow.

“Switzerland has for years been by far the most important destination worldwide for rich Russians to manage their wealth,” the report said, adding that net transfers of Russian taxpayers to Switzerland totaled $2.5 billion in 2020. The Swiss news agency SDA-ATS reported net transfers of $1.8 billion in the first half of 2021.


Given its historic role as a neutral party, the Swiss were not expected to adopt sanctions put in place by the US and the EU. Russia foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who has been personally sanctioned by the US, was even expected to visit Geneva tomorrow. But this morning Lavrov canceled his trip after Switzerland’s president announced the country was adopting EU sanctions including closing it’s airspace to Russian flights. More importantly, the Swiss are freezing the bank accounts of Putin, Lavrov and several hundred other Russian figures:

After a meeting with the Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland’s president, Ignazio Cassis, said that the country would immediately freeze the assets of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail V. Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, as well as all 367 individuals sanctioned last week by the European Union.

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

The decision to freeze Russian bank accounts came partly as a result of external pressure to fall in line with the rest of Europe. But the reaction from Swiss citizens, thousands of whom turned out in the streets of Bern to protest Russia’s invasion, may also have had an impact. This brief clip shows the size of the crowd.


There’s a longer clip here of the protest here which captures some of the speakers (in French and German). The crowd was explicitly there to criticize the government for not joining the EU sanctions and freezing bank accounts. So maybe that message got through over the weekend.

The invasion of Ukraine seems to have really united people around the world in seeking to oppose Russia with sanctions. VOA reports there were similar protests in many cities this weekend:

Several hundred people marched through heavy rain in Sydney chanting “Ukraine will prevail,” while protesters in Tokyo called for Russia to be expelled from the United Nations Security Council.

Thousands of people were in the streets in Europe, with protesters – including many Ukrainians living abroad – in London, Nicosia, Berlin, Athens, Helsinki, Madrid and Milan draping themselves in flags and holding “Stop the war” placards.

“You look at the people gathered here and everybody is scared … We had peace for 80 years and all of a sudden, war is back in Europe,” said Stefan Pischel, among a crowd of some 2,500 in Munich’s Karlsplatz square.

When the attack started last week, it really looked as if Ukraine might be overrun within a matter of days and the world would be in shock and unable to respond. Russia probably still has the upper hand on the ground but the impact this is going to have on their economy has to be causing some serious second guessing in Moscow. Seizing Kyiv as the entire Russian economy goes into collapse with no hope of recovery is a pyrrhic victory that few Russians are going to be happy about. If Putin thought this would end in sky high approval ratings for his bold leadership, he may have badly miscalculated.


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