Mowag Eagle I in Ukraine Mowag Eagle I in Ukraine

How Swiss-made Eagles landed in Ukraine

The Swiss neutrality is deeply rooted in the DNA of the small country and goes back to the 16th century. In fact, it has not fought in a war for over 200 years.

Even in Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, Switzerland refuses to provide any military assistance to Ukraine and focuses instead on humanitarian, as well as financial aid. Switzerland also supports sanctions against Russia.

However, in particular military assistance from Switzerland would be enormously important. For example, Germany would like to deliver essential Swiss-produced 35mm ammunition for the Gepard SPAAGs.

The Swiss company Ruag would also like to export 96 Leopard 1 main battle tanks, which they bought seven years ago in Italy. The first stop was supposed to be Rheinmetall in Germany, the next one was supposed to be Ukraine.

So far, however, each of these projects has been blocked. In the case of the Leopard 1s, the first politicians are now demanding that they should be scrapped quickly in order to save costs.

The journey of the Eagles

It was therefore even more surprising when, in mid-March 2023, pictures of Swiss-made Mowag Eagle I vehicles appeared in Ukraine. But what is a Mowag Eagle I?

This is an armored vehicle (a so-called IMV) — in the first version based on the chassis of a Humvee — which was to serve the Swiss Army as an armoured reconnaissance vehicle.

But how did this vehicle end up in Ukraine? Did Switzerland, without going public, allow the export of important war material to Ukraine after all?

Let me say one thing in advance: No! Following the sighting of the vehicles, the SECO, which is responsible for war material exports, announced an investigation in this regard.

However, even before the investigation was completed, it became clear that the vehicles were most likely formerly Danish and had been sold on to a German company in April 2013 with the permission of the Swiss authorities. A total of 27 vehicles of the Danish Armed Forces were sold to the German company.

From an article published later by the NZZ, it became clear that the German company was “FWW Fahrzeugwerke”. Especially controversial: In 2019, FFW Fahrzeugwerke was acquired by General Dynamics European Land Systems, which manufactures the Mowag Eagle IMVs!

The company agreed in its usual practice that it would not resell the vehicles to a third party abroad without the permission of the Swiss authorities. At the end of 2018, the former CEO of FWW Fahrzeugwerke acquired ownership of the 27 IMVs.

In June this year, the SECO completed its investigation and concluded that 11 of the 27 Mowag Eagle IMVs were exported to Ukraine with the permission of the German authorities.

In violation of the contract, the former CEO of the German company did not ask the Swiss authorities for permission because he “demilitarized” the vehicles before exporting them to Ukraine.

What does “demilitarized” mean?

Demilitarization basically means nothing more than modifying military material in such a way that the restoration of military characteristics is not possible or only possible at a very high cost.

Because of this demilitarization, for example, you can still see tanks from the Second World War in the museum around the corner in Germany.

Another Mowag Eagle I in Ukraine
Another Mowag Eagle I in Ukraine

In the case of the Mowag Eagle IMVs, for example, the bullet-proof windows, as well as the vehicle’s armoured shell were replaced, so that it was de facto nothing more than a vehicle with no protection potential for the crew. The demilitarization, which was carried out properly, was also confirmed by the German Ministry of Defence.

Despite this fact, this is apparently not enough to allow the vehicles to be exported to a third country without asking the Swiss authorities for permission.

In this regard, the SECO stated that demilitarization under German law had no influence on the applicability of the Swiss non-re-export declaration.

What are the consequences?

Fortunately, the SECO has already clarified in its final statement that this is not the fault of the German authorities and that the violation of the contract was only committed by the former CEO of FWW Fahrzeugwerke.

However, he is not so lucky. He has been excluded from acquiring any weapons systems produced in Switzerland for an undefined period of time. The Swiss customs was already instructed to block any exports to the former CEO.

What happens to the IMVs already delivered?

They will remain in Ukraine until they have served their purpose or have been completely destroyed, which is unfortunately very easy due to the demilitarized condition.

In August, I was able to ID the first Mowag Eagle I destroyed in Ukraine. The vehicle was destroyed in the Zaporizhzhia region. The demilitarized condition of the vehicle can be seen very well because almost nothing is left after the vehicle has been burnt out.

Destroyed Mowag Eagle I in Ukraine

What has not yet been clarified, and probably cannot be clarified before the end of the war, is who paid for the vehicles. I assume that the former CEO of the German company did not hand over the vehicles for free.

But one thing is for sure. That this case clearly shows what happens when Swiss war material is simply exported to Ukraine without permission of the Swiss authorities, as so many people are demanding, especially on Twitter.

What results from this is most likely absolutely unacceptable for most companies, which is why no one has done it in the past or will do it in the future, even though it would actually be very important…

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