Switzerland has triggered a diplomatic row with Moscow by summoning the Russian ambassador and demanding an immediate stop to espionage activity in its territory after Russian spies targeted a Swiss laboratory.
According to the Financial Times, Sergei Garmonin, Moscow’s ambassador in Bern, was called to the Swiss foreign ministry in protest after Russian spies reportedly targeted a lab in Spiez that tested traces of the nerve agent used in the attack in the British city of Salisbury on the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal.
The ambassador or a representative had been called in a total of three times since spring, the foreign ministry said.
It also emerged at the weekend that the scope of the alleged espionage against international institutions in Switzerland was significantly wider.
The Swiss attorney general’s office revealed that in March 2017 it had opened criminal proceedings into a cyber attack against the independent World Anti-Doping Agency, which is funded by governments and sports organisations around the world.
The decision to publicise the spat with Russia was unusual for Switzerland, which historically seeks to remain strictly neutral in its international relations and is host to many global bodies such as UN institutions and the International Olympic Committee.
The chemicals laboratory targeted by Russia also investigated gas attacks in Syria and works on behalf of the OPCW international chemical weapons watchdog, which is based in The Hague, the Dutch city where Russian spies were discovered and expelled, according to the FIS Swiss intelligence service.
FIS has not confirmed that the Spiez laboratory was the target of a possible cyber attack, as reported by Swiss and Dutch media, but on Friday said the expulsions from The Hague had helped prevent “illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure”.
In a statement, the Swiss foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday it had it had called in Mr Garmonin and “demanded that Russia immediately stop its espionage activities on our territory”.
Switzerland had also strengthened its controls over the accreditation of diplomats, the ministry added.
In response, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Bern would not comment on whether Mr Garmonin had been summoned or on the content of his discussions with the foreign ministry.