ZURICH – The foreign affairs committee of the Swiss parliament’s lower house has narrowly rejected a proposal by the centre-left Social Democrats to ban physical and transit trade in gas, oil and coal by companies majority-owned by Russia or by persons with close ties to the Kremlin until the war in Ukraine ends.
The motion failed by a vote of 13-12 on Tuesday, heading off a broader debate of the proposal in parliament as neutral Switzerland wrestles with its role in implementing sanctions designed to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.
Moscow describes its incursion as a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and Western governments reject that as a false pretext to invade a democratic country.
So far, Switzerland has adopted European Union sanctions against hundreds of Russian individuals and entities and frozen more than $6 billion worth of assets.
Swiss-based commodity traders such as Trafigura and Vitol play an important role in handling Russian energy deals.
Most political parties favour Bern’s embrace of EU sanctions in a break with Swiss traditions of neutrality, although some members of the right-wing People’s Party – the largest in parliament – have criticised the government for going too far.
As the EU readies a new wave of sanctions, Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said any Western embargo of Russian oil and gas imports needed to be done in a unified manner.
“We must first discuss this question in the cabinet. In any case, such a step would have to be coordinated internationally,” she told the Neue Zuercher Zeitung paper in an interview published on Wednesday.