Since neutrality is one of the hallmarks of its national identity, Switzerland refrains from supplying military equipment and ammunition to countries involved in a conflict. Based on this principle and his Federal Law on War Materiel, he vetoed the supply of 35 mm shells for the Oerlikon KDA L/90 guns of the Gepard anti-aircraft armored vehicles delivered by Germany to the Ukrainian army.
However, Bern has deviated slightly from this neutrality by accepting all sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia… But for some, this is still too little… to the point of suggesting that it follow Sweden and Finland, who have abandoned their neutrality to provide military aid to Ukraine and join NATO.
In any case, the issue divides Swiss public opinion, according to a survey published by Tamedia. Thus, 50% of those surveyed favor re-exporting arms and ammunition to Ukraine on an exceptional basis [46% are opposed, and 4% have no opinion on the matter]. It should be noted that the youngest respondents are also the most reticent… However, for the majority, neutrality remains non-negotiable. In recent months, Switzerland has also refused to sell the Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks it has in reserve to Poland.
“Since the transfer of disused tanks to another State presupposes a dismantling of these systems, which is subject to parliamentary approval in the context of messages about the army, the DDPS [Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport] considers that In June 2022, At a time when the Polish army was trying to rapidly replace the T-72s it had just handed over to its Ukrainian counterpart, Berne argued that “under the current circumstances, the transfer of disused tanks to Poland cannot be done within a useful period.
In the past, the Swiss Army had as many as 380 Leopard 2A4s. Now it only has 230, of which 96 have been placed in reserve.
Some have been transformed into engineering vehicles or recovery tanks. And in 2010, 42 of them were bought -without their weapons- by the German group Rheinmetall, which wanted to recover the “chassis for the construction of support vehicles,” according to the explanations given at the time.
Although the Swiss authorities refused to sell the Leopard 2A4s to Poland, they considered that Germany could “hand over” the 42 examples Rheinmetall had taken over twelve years earlier.
At the time, however, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz strongly opposed the idea of supplying Ukraine with tanks. Since then, after weeks of pressure, he has finally changed his mind.
Germany has taken the lead in the “Leopard coalition,” which brings together the countries [Poland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, etc.] that have agreed to supply Leopard 2 to Ukraine, even if this means reducing their military capabilities.
Hence Berlin’s interest in Swiss tanks, according to reports from the Swiss newspaper Blick and the Reuters agency.
Germany wants Switzerland to sell its surplus Leopard 2A4s to Rheinmetall to “replenish arms stocks in the European Union and NATO member countries.” On February 23, a letter to this effect was sent to Viola Amherd, the Swiss Minister of Defence. It should be noted that the tanks that the German group could take over would not be destined for Ukraine.
For the moment, Berne has not given an answer that satisfies the German request… Because, as in the case of Poland, it assumes first that the tanks in question are officially declared out of service by the Swiss Parliament.
“Discussions on the matter are currently taking place in Parliament,” a Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport spokesman stated.
The outcome of these debates is uncertain. In January, a parliamentary initiative was launched to “return” to Germany about thirty Leopard 2s… But it was blocked by the security policy committees of the chambers of the Swiss Parliament [National Council and Council of States].
“Most of the parliamentarians considered that the tanks were a strategic reserve of the army and should be kept. The Armored Officers Society also clearly rejected the idea,” recalls Blick.