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18 Jul, 2022 17:55

Switzerland turns down NATO request on Ukrainians

Bern has refused to treat Ukrainian civilians, arguing that they are “indistinguishable” from soldiers, local media report
Switzerland turns down NATO request on Ukrainians

The Swiss federal government has turned down a request to treat wounded Ukrainians, arguing that the move would violate the Alpine nation’s neutral status, the country’s Tages Anzeiger newspaper has learned. The request was made by a NATO department.

The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre – a NATO structure that currently coordinates international medical evacuations and treatment of Ukrainians injured during the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev – reportedly reached out to the Swiss Army’s Coordinated Medical Service (KSD) in May. The military bloc sought aid from Swiss medics in caring for not just Ukrainian soldiers but for civilians in need of hospital treatment as well, media reported on Monday.

Switzerland’s national association of health-service providers – the conference of cantonal health directors (GDK) – then said it was “fundamentally open” to the idea of admitting injured Ukrainians to Swiss health facilities. The Federal Health Office signaled its approval as well. In mid-June, the idea, however, was turned down by the Foreign Affairs Department, which said any such admission would be impossible for “legal and practical reasons,” Tages Anzeiger reports.

Under the Geneva Conventions ratified by Bern, a neutral state might treat soldiers taking part in a conflict between third countries but it must then ensure they “can no longer take part in the acts of war,” the Swiss media reported. Otherwise, such a nation would lose its neutral status, media reports explained.

According to the Swiss Blick newspaper, Bern might potentially go as far as to imprison any Ukrainian soldiers it has treated. Another option would be to ask Moscow to allow the recovered soldiers to return to Ukraine, the paper added.

Treatment of civilians turned out to be just as problematic for the Swiss authorities under the existing circumstances, according to the country’s media. Johannes Matyassy, the Director of the Foreign Affairs Department’s Consular Directorate, told journalists that “it is almost impossible to distinguish between civilians and soldiers” when it comes to the modern-day Ukraine since “many civilians in Ukraine have taken up arms.”

According to the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, Bern “did not just say no” but offered to provide some help “on the ground” instead. Switzerland plans to send humanitarian aid to support civilian hospitals in Ukraine, Swiss media report, adding that the exact scale of this aid is still being discussed.

Switzerland – a nation that prides itself on its neutrality – has still joined some of the western sanctions against Russia over its military operation in Ukraine. Bern nonetheless repeatedly prevented other western nations from sending Swiss-made arms and ammo to Kiev. In April, Switzerland blocked delivery of ammunition used by Germany’s Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, according to local media.

In early June, it also turned down a Danish request to re-export Swiss-made armored vehicles to Kiev. Bern also said that nations like Germany or Italy could send arms with Swiss-made components to Ukraine, but only if the proportion of Swiss-made elements in them is below 50%.