Russia strikes back at Switzerland’s airspace closure

Moscow responded in a tit-for-tat manner, banning Swiss planes from flying over its territory

Moscow has closed its airspace to Swiss planes, mirroring Bern’s decision on Monday to prohibit Russian aircraft from flying over the Alpine country.

Russia’s aviation authority released a statement on Tuesday saying that “in keeping with international law and as a retaliatory measure” in the wake of the ban Switzerland had imposed on Russian aircraft, Moscow was “restricting flights by civil aircraft” belonging to or registered in Switzerland.

On Monday, Ignazio Cassis, who serves as Switzerland’s President and Foreign Minister, announced that his country was joining other Western nations in slapping sanctions on Russia over its military operation in Ukraine.

It marks a major break with tradition as Switzerland has been neutral for decades.

Explaining his decision during a press conference in Bern on February 28, Cassis described the current situation in Ukraine as “extraordinary,” adding that it called for “extraordinary measures.” The Swiss Head of State, however, insisted that the unprecedented measures did not mean that Switzerland had ceased to be neutral.

Switzerland’s sanctions are essentially identical to those the EU imposed on Russia in late February. On top of closing its airspace to Russian aircraft and banning Swiss entities and individuals from doing business with certain Russian companies, officials and businessmen, Bern also unveiled punitive measures targeting directly Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Additionally, Bern pledged to deliver “relief supplies” for Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland.

During the escalation over Ukraine back in 2014-2015, Switzerland opted not to impose sanctions on Russia, or any other parties involved.

Over the past few days, a total of 36 nations comprised of all EU member states along with Canada and several others have closed airspace to Russian aircraft. Moscow responded with tit-for-tat airspace closures to planes belonging to or registered in the respective countries.

Moreover, Western nations and some of their allies in Asia have also imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, targeting, among other things, its central bank’s assets as well as a number of major commercial banks, individuals believed to be Putin’s close associates and the country’s leadership as well. The punitive measures came in response to a “special military operation” in Ukraine which Russia launched on February 24. President Putin declared the “demilitarization and denazification” of the country as the operation’s main goal. Ukraine and its Western allies, in turn, insist that Moscow’s military actions are an “unprovoked” aggression against a sovereign state.

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