The largest party in the country’s legislature has walked out on an address by the Ukrainian leader
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky addressed the Swiss parliament via video link on Thursday, urging lawmakers to revise the country’s policies on arms exports and rallying more support in the fight with Russia. The speech sparked controversy even before it happened, with the parliament’s largest faction, the People’s Party, boycotting it as perceived interference in Swiss affairs.
In his address, Zelensky urged MPs to allow exports – and re-exports – of Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine, and to take further action against Russian “oligarchs.”
“I know there is a discussion in Switzerland about the exportation of war materiel to protect and defend Ukraine. That would be vital. We need weapons so we can restore peace in Ukraine,” Zelensky asserted.
The speech was ignored by the right-wing People’s Party, which holds 53 seats in the 200-seat lower house, the National Council, as well as 6 mandates in the 46-seat upper house, the Council of States. The party vowed to boycott the address immediately after it was announced last month, arguing it would constitute gross interference in Switzerland’s domestic affairs.
“We understand that the Ukrainian president wants to do everything to defend Ukraine. But we must not allow ourselves to be put under pressure on the issue of sanctions or arms deliveries,” People’s Party MP Alfred Heer said.
Inviting guest speakers is a rare occurrence for the Swiss legislature, with only two dozen such events since the 1970s. Moreover, Zelensky’s speech was the first-ever address to the parliament made by a foreign leader over video link.
Switzerland’s long-standing image as a neutral country has already been somewhat tarnished by Bern’s decision to join the West’s Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia. Still, the country has consistently rejected requests to allow re-exports of Swiss-made weaponry to Kiev, despite mounting pressure from other Western nations, including the US.
Earlier this month, the National Council shot down a bill that would have allowed such shipments, rejecting a proposed amendment to the national War Materiel Act. The legislation, known as the ‘Lex Ukraine,’ called for a temporary waiver until the end of 2025 that would have allowed the handover of Swiss-made war materiel specifically to Kiev.