How Swiss weapons are being used on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia conflict

Despite the government following an official policy of neutrality, Swiss-made weapons are being used by fighters on both sides of the conflict. Closer to home, Swiss politicians are debating rearmament domestically.

Members of the Swiss military lined up performing exercises. Photo by Simon Infanger on Unsplash
Swiss weapons are reportedly being used on both sides of the conflict after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Photo by Simon Infanger on Unsplash

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to fierce fighting in and around several of the country’s largest cities. 

According to observers, forces on both sides of the conflict are using Swiss weapons – with the weapons produced by the same manufacturer. 

Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass have been seen using Swiss submachine guns so far in the conflict, Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reports

The manufacturer, B&T AG from the town of Thun in the canton of Bern, confirmed the sale of the weapons to Ukraine, saying these were approved by Swiss authorities and were originally delivered in connection with the 2012 European Football Championships. 

EXPLAINED: Understanding Switzerland’s obsession with guns

B&T has also sold MP9 submachine guns to Russian special forces, which have used them since 2015 in the Donbass region. 

The owner of the weapons manufacturer, Karl Brügger, has previously come under fire for breaching Switzerland’s War Material Act by selling sniper rifles and grenade launchers which were to be used in Kazakstan. 

Switzerland’s Tages Anzeiger reports that B&T weapons are likely not the only Swiss arms being used in the conflict. 

Over the past 20 years, Ukraine and Russia have bought CHF5.9 million worth of Swiss weapons. 

The Swiss government confirmed in an official report that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine bought submachine guns of Swiss origin. 

MPs debate the rearmament of Switzerland

After the outbreak of war in Ukraine, a number of Swiss politicians and security experts are concerned about the country’s safety and readiness to defend itself.

“Switzerland has woken up from the dream of eternal peace,” said Dominik Knill, president of the Swiss Society of Officers. For security expert Niklas Mashur, Russia’s  invasion will influence the debate on increasing defense preparedness and armament budgets.

Among the MPs, some are already calling for more military spending.

“The current situation in Eastern Europe shows that the increase in budget is absolutely necessary”, said Werner Salzmann, chairman of the  parliamentary Security Policy Commission.

Another MP, Thomas Hurter, is also pushing not only for a higher budget, but more soldiers as well.

“The army is there to protect and defend the population against possible external attacks. This principle has been too neglected in recent years”, he said.

14th-largest exporter in the world

Switzerland has seen significant increases in weapons exports in recent years. 

In 2020, the last year on record, Switzerland exported CHF902 million worth of war material, a 24 percent increase on 2019. 

While that may appear significant, it still only represents 0.7 percent of the total global military equipment exports, estimates the Stockholm International Peace Institute

This made Switzerland the 14th largest exporter of arms in the world. 

Efforts to curb Switzerland’s military exports at the ballot box have failed in recent years, with successive referendums thrown out by Swiss voters. 

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Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

There has been much talk lately about how electricity shortages would impact Switzerland’s essential infrastructure, including access to emergency services. This is how some cantons are preparing for this ‘worst-case’ scenario.

Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

Though Switzerland buys most of its natural gas through various European distribution channels, almost half of the country’s supply — an estimated 47 percent — is of Russian origin. 

As gas is used to generate electricity, it is no wonder that Swiss authorities are worried about what would happen to essential services if the power goes out.

“We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland. In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us”, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said during a press conference in June.

She added that “the energy crisis could hit us hard. That’s why we are concerned about preparing for emergencies.”

READ MORE: ‘It could hit us hard’: Switzerland prepares for impending gas shortage

When the power goes out, telephone service for fixed lines does too. While mobile phones will continue to work for as long as their batteries are charged, they too will ‘die’ if electricity is cut for an extended period of time.

For instance, Swisscom’s current backup power supply “consists of one hour of autonomy on all networks”.

This means that emergency calls for ambulances, police, and fire services will no longer be possible after this timeframe.

Emergency plans

However, some cantons have made contingency plans to manage such crises by setting up the so-called “emergency meeting points” — specially designated areas where residents could drive or walk to if they needed help quickly.

According to Diego Ochsner, head of the Office for Military Affairs and Civil Protection in the canton of Solothurn, these meeting points “are equipped with a Polycom device and an emergency power supply”, allowing unfettered communication with emergency services.

Polycom is a secure radio network used by authorities in crisis situations.

Most of these points are set up in community halls, schools, and sports facilities. You can find your nearest emergency point here.

However, while meeting points exist in a number of cantons — including Bern, St. Gallen, Aargau, Nidwalden, Lucerne, Schaffhausen, Zurich, and Zug — they are lacking in other regions, especially in the French-speaking part of the country.

READ MORE: MAP: Which Swiss cities will be most impacted by a gas shortage this winter?

“From our point of view, the ideal would be for more cantons to set up these points and for the federal government to take charge”, Ochsner said. “Unfortunately, we are still a long way from that.”

The government has not gotten involved in establishing more meeting points because it considers this task to be a cantonal, rather than a federal matter.

What should you do if you live in cantons that don’t provide this service?

The best approach is to inform yourself as soon as possible about the logistics your community has in place for reaching emergency services in case of a power outage.

You can obtain this information from your local civil protection office, which is usually listed on the official website of your canton.