Leading Russian opposition figures criticise Switzerland

How do the leading Russian opposition figures assess Switzerland's role in the war against Ukraine? The criticism is unanimous: the country is still hiding behind neutrality and is granting Putin's confidants too many loopholes.

This content was published on September 29, 2022 minutes
Vladimir Kara-Mursa wrote his answers to SWI by hand in prison.

SWI journalist Elena Servettaz contacted the most important voices of the Russian opposition. They have long since left the country: Former world chess champion and Putin opponent Garry Kasparov lives in the United States and Croatia, entrepreneur Leonid Nevzlin in Israel, economist Sergei Guriev fled to France, and economist Sergei Aleksashenko lives in Washington.  

Political activist and journalist Vladimir Kara-Mursa is in Russian custody. He answered the questions we sent him via his lawyer by writing his response on a piece of paper in the visiting room of the Moscow prison.

Kara-Mursa is very critical of Switzerland's role: "Putin's functionaries and oligarchs were allowed to... stash away money stolen from Russian taxpayers,"

"People’s lives, European values, and the future of the whole continent are at stake," stresses former energy magnate Leonid Nevzlin, explaining: "Swiss bank accounts belonging to Putin’s regime cronies are still open and functioning."

Nevzlin calls on the Swiss government and the banks to intervene more consistently, even in the case of concealed real estate purchases. He says it is better to overdo it rather than not do enough "under the guise of neutrality".   

Nevzlin was the closest associate of ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The latter now lives in London and says: "It is impossible to belong to Europe without sharing basic European values. That's why there was no alternative to developing the traditional Swiss concept of neutrality." Khodorkovsky was once the richest man in Russia. The Kremlin has put a $500,000 bounty on his head (CHF492,000).

For star economist Sergei Guriev, it is clear that "any loophole, however small, will be used by Putin". Switzerland plays a crucial role in this. "It is a country that has modern technologies and banks that could be used to help Putin circumvent sanctions in order to buy modern technology abroad," he says. Looking ahead to winter, he is certain Swiss traders will play an important role when an embargo on Russian oil hits.

Top economist Sergey Aleksashenko is also critical of Switzerland's neutrality, even if it supports European Union sanctions. For him, that is not enough. "Those who side with the good must stop the butchers," he says. "Switzerland is a country where many commodity traders are based, and Brussels is not sufficiently familiar with the specifics of their activities."

For former world chess champion Garry Kasparov it is clear: Putin must be forced to stop the invasion, he cannot be persuaded. Kasparov wants assets of Putin confidants in Switzerland to be used for the reconstruction of Ukraine but that would require political will. "Despite some improvements in its position toward sanctions against Russia, it is obvious that the Swiss government is not ready to take such steps," Kasparov complains.

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