The international pressure is great: Switzerland is to lend the Ukraine mine clearing tanks

The international pressure is great: Switzerland is to lend the Ukraine mine clearing tanks

Car cing G/smin Leopard 2, engineer tank configuration

The mine clearance tank G/Mirm Pz Leo. It clears mines 4.2 meters wide and 30 centimeters deep.image: VBS

The dispute over arms exports enters a new round. The SP comes up with a new proposal. The Federal Council must provide “strong help” for demining Ukraine, says SP parliamentary group leader Roger Nordmann.

Othmar von Matt / ch media

Spectacular and behemoth-looking, the G/Mirm Pz Leo mine clearance tank. Its mine clearing width is 4.20 meters, the mine clearing depth is 30 centimeters. With the 2004 armament program, Switzerland bought twelve for 129 million Swiss francs.

The SP is now demanding that the Federal Council cede six of the twelve armored mine clearance vehicles to Ukraine on loan for civilian purposes. “If the Federal Council does not want to make any contribution to the re-export of weapons,” says SP parliamentary group leader Roger Nordmann, “then it must at least provide strong help for demining Ukraine.”

The new mine clearing vehicle idea is one of three ways in which the parliament wants to help Ukraine with war material, directly or indirectly. The re-export of arms to third countries is the second. And the third way has been outlined by FDP National Councilor Maja Riniker: She wants to hand over 25 of the 96 mothballed Leopard 2 tanks to Germany.

“The international pressure on Switzerland is very high to do more for Ukraine – rightly so,” says Nordmann. He emphasizes that the armored mine clearance vehicles must be delivered to Ukraine with clear conditions. “They shouldn’t be used at the front. They would only be intended for demining agricultural zones and outskirts of the city of Kiev – and would have to be driven by civilians.”

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As an alternative to the armored mine clearance vehicles, Nordmann proposes that the Federal Council of Ukraine hand over several remote-controlled mine clearance vehicles to the Digger Foundation in the Bernese Jura. The tracked vehicle of the type Digger D250 is a mixture of tractor and armored vehicle. It weighs twelve tons, has 250 hp and a mine tiller at the front that digs up the ground. It specializes in civilian demining.

Gentien Piaget, Deputy Director of the Digger Foundation, operates a Digger D250 demining machine, on Friday 10 February 2023, in Tavannes.  .The Digger Foundation is a non-profit...

Gentien Piaget, Deputy Director of the Digger Foundation, operates a Digger D250 deminer.Bild: keystone

Because research shows: The SP idea with the mine clearing tanks should be difficult to implement. The Federal Council has just approved an exception clause for demining vehicles: They may be exported to the Ukraine. The mine clearance tank G/Mirm Pz Leo hardly falls under it. The export of war material always requires a permit from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), says spokesman Fabian Maienfisch. “With regard to the temporary export of Swiss Army tanks, Seco would have to examine the application on a case-by-case basis.” According to the current legal situation, however, it is not possible to authorize the export of war material to states that are involved in an international armed conflict.

The Digger Foundation wants to produce deminers in Kiev

The situation is different for the remote-controlled Digger deminers. They may be exported to Kyiv. Plans for this already exist. By the end of the year, a digger deminer is to be brought to Kiev, which Swiss Solidarity financed. A first deminer, financed by a donor, is to be delivered even before this.

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The Digger Foundation is also in contact with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (Deza). She would like to set up her own production line for the Digger D250 in the Ukraine. “We have already found the partner for this in Ukraine,” says Frédéric Guerne, founder and director of the foundation. “We hope for a contribution from the Deza of between 1 and 1.5 million francs.”

With his demand for Digger deminers for Ukraine, Nordmann is throwing open doors. Guerne thinks the SP advance is “fantastic”. “In early 2023, Ukraine said it needed 60 deminers.” It is believed that up to 30 percent of the country is mined. Guerne emphasizes that military armored mine clearance vehicles are not suitable for civilian demining. “They only remove 80 percent of the mines, but only clear them away, do not destroy them.” Civilian digger deminers, on the other hand, remove “95 to 100 percent of the mines” and destroy them.

«Lex Ukraine» is at the special session

In the current special session, the National Council will again decide on the second option, on the re-export of arms to partner countries. In the March session, Parliament blocked itself and completely or partially rejected two proposals. The parliamentary initiative “Lex Ukraine” is now on the agenda. It goes back to a Central initiative and wants to allow war material to be re-exported to partner countries if the weapons go to Ukraine, “in connection with the Russian-Ukrainian war”.

“Can Parliament finally get a motion through? Or does it block itself again?” That’s the big question, says Mitte faction leader Philipp Matthias Bregy. For him it is crucial that something moves. Anyone who wants the situation surrounding the re-export of weapons to be unblocked “must actually agree to the ‘Lex Ukraine'”.

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The hurdles are high for the parliamentary initiative. The Green faction with 30 votes and the SVP with 55 reject it. They total 85 votes and need a maximum of 16 votes from GLP (16), SP (39), Mitte (31) and FDP (29). “I can only estimate to some extent how far the groups’ willingness to compromise goes,” says Center President Gerhard Pfister. “We will probably support everything that is an option to help Ukraine as soon as possible.” (

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