Russian spying ‘beyond normal levels’, says Swiss foreign minister

Ignazio Cassis said he would make it clear to Russia what Switzerland would and would not tolerate. © KEYSTONE / ANTHONY ANEX

Reacting to reports about Russian spying in Switzerland, Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis has pledged to raise the issue with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov next week.

This content was published on September 17, 2018

Speaking to Swiss public broadcaster SRF on Monday, Cassis said that the level of espionage being conducted by Russia was “beyond the usual level of activity”, and that he would discuss the issue with Moscow’s foreign minister next week.

“We have already had various bilateral discussions this year, on various levels, in which we made it clear what Switzerland would not tolerate,” said Cassis. However, he also said that a balance must be found between “speaking plainly” and continuing to foster relations with Russia.

In recent weeks, he confirmed, the Swiss foreign ministry took the step of refusing to grant accreditation to several Russian diplomats. 

The Swiss foreign ministry also said it had summoned the Russian ambassador on Sunday to demand an "immediate end to spy activities on Swiss territory". The Russian embassy has dismissed the allegations.

+ More on the Le Matin Dimanche/SonntagsZeitung report about Russian spying

Among other issues, Cassis was reacting to reports over the weekend claiming that every fourth Russian diplomat in Switzerland was a spy.

Last Friday, the Swiss Federal Intelligence ServicesExternal link (FIS) also confirmed another news report finding that in March, two Russian agents had been arrested in the Netherlands and expelled after a joint operation by Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland. 

Citing unnamed sources, Swiss and Dutch papers had said the suspected agents were on route for the Spiez laboratory near Bern, which analyses chemical and biological weapons, including the nerve agent Novichok, the same that Britain says Russia used to try to murder a former spy.

Cassis did not comment in detail on the Spiez incident, saying that the FIS retained control over the precise details of the planned attack and that he was not fully informed.

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