By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) -Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said on Sunday that it was “very probable” that neutral Switzerland would follow the European Union (EU) on Monday in sanctioning Russia and freezing Russian assets in the Alpine country.
Cassis, interviewed on French-language Swiss public television RTS, said that the seven-member Federal Council would meet on Monday and review recommendations by the departments of finance and economy.
Asked whether Switzerland — a major financial centre and commodities trading hub — would follow the EU in freezing Russian assets, he said: “It is very probable that the government will decide to do so tomorrow, but I cannot anticipate decisions not yet taken.”
Cassis said that Switzerland’s neutrality must be preserved and it stood ready to offer its good offices for diplomacy if talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials on the Belarusian border do not succeed, for example by reaching an armistice.
“That does not prevent us from calling a spade a spade,” he said.
Switzerland has walked a tortuous line between showing solidarity with the West and maintaining its traditional neutrality that the government says could make it a potential mediator.
But it faces growing pressure to side clearly with the West against Moscow and adopt punitive European Union sanctions. The government had so far said only that it will not let Switzerland be used as a platform to circumvent EU sanctions.
In the biggest peace march in decades, around 20,000 people demonstrated in the capital Bern on Saturday to support Ukraine, some booing the government over its cautious policy.
Cassis said on Sunday that Ukrainians fleeing the conflict would be welcome “for a transitional period, which we hope will be as short a possible”.
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said separately that Switzerland was ready to take in those who need protection and also to support the neighbouring countries affected. “We will not leave people in the lurch,” she said.
The Swiss government last week amended its watchlist to include 363 individuals and four companies that the EU had put on its sanctions list to punish Moscow.
Russians held nearly 10.4 billion Swiss francs ($11.24 billion) in Switzerland in 2020, Swiss National Bank data show.
($1 = 0.9252 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Diane Craft)