Swiss sharpen measures targeting Russia

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ZURICH, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Switzerland will tighten its measures against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, President Ignazio Cassis said on Thursday, although the measures will not include an immediate freeze of the billions of francs held by Russians in Swiss accounts.

The government will adjust its regulations so Switzerland cannot be used to circumvent sanctions imposed by the European Union, Cassis told a news conference in Bern.

"Neutrality does not mean indifference," Cassis said, repeating Switzerland's condemnation of the attack which he described as a severe breach of international law.

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Bern would toughen measures it introduced after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 to prevent Russia using Switzerland to get around EU sanctions.

"For reasons of neutrality, Switzerland did not directly adopt sanctions at that time. Today, the government has sharpened its response," Cassis said.

"The EU sanctions issued yesterday are to be integrated into this ordinance in the form of anti-circumvention measures, and individual measures will be tightened, particularly in the financial sector," he added.

The list of persons sanctioned by the EU will be adopted in principle, Cassis said.

"We do not freeze the funds, but we provide for a tightening of the current system that includes a reporting obligation," economy ministry official Erwin Bollinger told the press conference.

Russians held nearly 10.4 billion Swiss francs ($11.21 billion) in the country in 2020, according to data from the Swiss National Bank.

The crisis also affected the Swiss franc, which soared to 1.0288 versus the euro earlier on Thursday, its highest valuation since June 2015 as investors sought refuge in the safe-haven currency.

The SNB declined to comment on the appreciation, although Credit Suisse economist Maxime Botteron said it was highly probable the central bank was intervening in the forex markets to stem the franc's appreciation.

"Russia is an interesting market, but it is not a priority for the industry as a whole," the Swiss Bankers Association said, adding it did not have precise figures on individual Swiss banks’ exposure to Russia.

($1 = 0.9274 Swiss francs)

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Reporting by John Revill, Silke Koltrowitz and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, editing by Michael Shields, William Maclean

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