Alpine nation’s main intelligence agency says at least a third of Russia’s 220 accredited officials are probably spies.
Switzerland’s main intelligence agency, the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), says Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has made the country an espionage hotspot, with at least a third of the 220 officials Russia has accredited in the country suspected of being spies.
While Russian spying elsewhere in Europe and in North America had been weakened by expulsions, Russian agents continued to operate in Bern, the Swiss capital, and at Moscow’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the FIS said in its annual report.
“In Europe, Switzerland is one of the states with the highest numbers of Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover, in part due to its role as a host to international organisations,” it said in the report released on Monday.
The UN has its European headquarters in Geneva and the city also hosts several UN agencies and international organisations. Hundreds of diplomats are posted in the city or regularly gather there for key meetings.
“Of the approximately 220 people accredited as diplomatic or techno-administrative staff in the Russian missions in Geneva and Bern, probably at least a third work for the Russian intelligence services,” FIS chief Christian Dussey told a press conference.
The Swiss secret service, which has 450 staff, said the war in Ukraine was forcing it to extend its monitoring to areas that had previously received little attention, such as Turkey and India, because Russia had been using companies in such countries for procurement.
While China is also believed to have dozens of spies at its diplomatic missions in Switzerland, their number is significantly less than Russia’s, the agency said.
China’s agents rely more on non-diplomatic cover, the FIS said, and are mainly described officially as scientists, journalists or business executives.
Dussey said he expected China’s intelligence operation to become stronger in Europe, supported by growing resources.
“We are doing the maximum, on the ground, to show the lines” not to be crossed, the FIS chief said, adding that espionage operations had a negative impact on Geneva’s international importance and were detrimental to Switzerland’s credibility.Asked about the report in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs regular press conference on Tuesday, spokesperson Mao Ning rejected the Swiss findings and said that China was opposed to espionage. She also urged an end to what she described as “groundless smears”.
The FIS also noted that the security picture had been affected by the growing rivalry between the world’s major powers, which had been intensified by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia has destroyed the rules-based order for peace in Europe,” the FIS said.
“The effectiveness of international forums for maintaining peace and security, such as the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has continued to decline; there are no signs of a stable new world order.”