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Country of Spies: The Swiss twist in the Skripal case

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Swiss intelligence agencies help the US and the UK to expose Russian spies associated with a chemical attack in Salisbury and also create an excuse for new anti-Russian sanctions
17:45, 24 September 2018

Associated Press

Calm and small Alpine country Switzerland, which adheres to international neutrality, has got involved in the operation of Russian special services, which are wishing to mislead and intercept information used in the investigation into the poisoning of former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia in Salisbury (the UK). The Swiss prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case against two Russians suspected of hacking at the office of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the Swiss city of Lausanne and attempting to obtain data from the laboratory of radiological and chemical-bacteriological analysis in the town of Spiez. The Swiss found out that their country was repeatedly visited by Russian citizens Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, suspected of poisoning the Skripal family and having ties with the GRU (Russian Main Intelligence Directorate – Ed.). The Russian embassy in Switzerland denies accusations of espionage and calls the actions of the Swiss prosecutor's office "an absurd attempt to inflame anti-Russian sentiments," "an attack on Russia without evidence." However, the Federal Security Service of Switzerland (FIS) does not think so.

Related: Suspects in Skripal poisoning are active GRU officers, - Bellingcat

The Country of Spies in the very heart of Europe

The Swiss have long been concerned about the fact that their country has become a field of special services of third countries. According to FIS spokeswoman Isabel Graber, the reason for this trend is the geographical location of Switzerland, a large number of interstate meetings held on its territory, developed infrastructure, a large number of tourists and foreign businessmen, among whom spies can be bothered. Swiss cities and resorts are used as a platform for bilateral negotiations of other countries, the venue for international conferences, as well as for meetings of representatives of foreign special services. In Geneva, there are headquarters and offices of some 300 international organizations, including the European branch of the United Nations, its specialized agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization.

To date, the Swiss authorities have a priority to reduce the influence of foreign special services in the country that violate its sovereignty. FIS is allowed under certain circumstances to hack computers and arrange surveillance for individuals. Even the Israeli intelligence "Mossad" left its mark on the Swiss land - in 1998, five Israeli spies were arrested in Bern. However, Russian spies are the most active in recent years in Switzerland. As reported in the FIS, the activities of Russian special services have reached an unprecedented scale - about a quarter of the employees of diplomatic institutions in Switzerland are employees of the Kremlin special services. In total, 83 Russian diplomats and 67 non-accredited officials from the Russian Federation work in Switzerland.

Related: Suspected in Skripals' case Petrov and Boshirov involved in special services

Swiss maneuver of the Kremlin

FIS recognizes the fact of hacker attacks on the laboratory in Spiez, where research is conducted in the field of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Specialists from Spitz checked the results of a study of the British Institute in Porton Down about samples of the Novichok agent from the crime scene in Salisbury at the request of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Samples of chemical weapons, used in the armed conflict in Syria, were examined there too. Whatever Russian diplomats say, information kept in the Spiez laboratory cannot leave GRU indifferent.

Related: Skripal poisoning suspects were previously arrested in the Netherlands

Two Russians, against whom Swiss law enforcement officers have opened a criminal case, already worked in Holland. They were exposed during a joint operation by the British, Dutch, and Swiss special services in The Hague in March this year, shortly after the chemical attack in Salisbury. Counterintelligence agents do not cover the details of the operation; they do not disclose the identity of the Russian spies. Swiss and Dutch press informed that they worked in the Russian embassy in Holland, they were suspected of having links with the GRU, they have been seized with equipment by which they could penetrate the computer network of the chemical laboratory. Presumably, they were caught hot on their way to Spiez. For some reason, the Dutch authorities did not attract Russians to justice. In late March, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the government's decision to expel the two Russian intelligence officers who worked in the Russian embassy in response to a chemical attack in Salisbury.

Apparently, the task of the Russians was to find out the degree of involvement of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, whose headquarters are in The Hague, and its Swiss partners in Spiez in the British investigation of the chemical attack in Salisbury. This is quite logical, since intelligence extracts confidential information so that its government could know the steps of its opponents, and diplomats could have room for maneuvers. This is especially true of representatives of the Russian political elite since a significant number of functionaries of the ruling United Russia party used to work in the power structures of the Soviet Union, including the KGB (just like Russian President Vladimir Putin).

Related: Poroshenko discuss with Williamson anti-Russian sanctions due to Skripals' poisoning

The essence of the Kremlin's maneuver in Switzerland was to distort information about the substance that was poisoned by the Violins and to shift responsibility for the crime to the shoulders of the West. It was even advantageous for the Russians to have their spies taken in The Hague as evidence that the Kremlin's people were allegedly trying to find out the "truth." The Kremlin gave birth to another myth for the international community that the "insidious" West is trying to discredit the "white" Russia. This is evidenced by one of the statements of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who purposely indicated the trace of Russian special services in Switzerland. In April, he stated that the Skripals were allegedly poisoned with a psycho-chemical substance of western origin BZ (3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate), referring to a confidential source through which he received an analytical report from a laboratory in Spiez. In the 1960s, BZ was produced in the US in the state of Arkansas and, presumably, was used in a limited way during the Vietnam War.

Lavrov could not get such information legally. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons does not disseminate reports from laboratories among the participating countries. One of the employees of the laboratory in Spiez Andreas Bucher is sure that there was no leakage of information.

Related: Suspected in Skripal’s poisoning: We came to Salisbury to hang out, see clocks

Information operation of Switzerland, the US, and the UK

The Swiss special services started talking about the activities of Russian spies in their country right now to reinforce the positions of the US and Britain, which use the chemical attack in Salisbury as an argument for the introduction of new anti-Russian sanctions. The special services of the CIA, MI6, and FIS cooperate in the field of information exchange and countering cyber threats. The US has a law on the elimination of chemical and biological weapons from 1991, which provides for sanctions against states that use it against the citizens, as well as firms involved in its distribution. In accordance with the first package of sanctions, the US State Department ceased to issue licenses to US firms to export weapons and dual-use products to Russia, except aerospace and civil aviation products (after August 27) and banned any US financial assistance, except for urgent humanitarian assistance, food, and agricultural products.

Related: British MIA: Sanctions in Skripal case not to introduced until after Brexit

In September, US Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh said that in November the US will introduce a second package of more stringent sanctions that will affect the banks and the defense sector, since Russia did not allow international experts to inspect chemical facilities, located on its territory, which could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. British Prime Minister Teresa May called on European countries to support the US and impose sanctions against Russia in response to a chemical attack in Salisbury, convened an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in early September. The Swiss help the Americans and the British prepare an informational basis for the imposition of new sanctions against Russia.

Related: Russia's explanation on Skripal's case "obfuscation and lies", - May's Spokesperson

In Switzerland, information began to be speculated that two other Russians, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, suspected by British law enforcers in connection with the GRU and the poisoning of the Skripal family, have been often visiting Geneva, Amsterdam, Milan, and Paris (September 2016 – March 2018). The Swiss try to stop attempts of Russia to refute suspicions against Petrov and Boshirov, who visited London and Salisbury on March 2-4, 2018, on the eve of the poisoning. British law enforcement officials claim that it was these two who carried the Novichok agent and used it as an instrument of a crime. However, on September 13, Petrov and Boshirov appeared on the air of the Russian RT channel, aimed at the Western audience, and stated that they were not connected with the GRU, they were tourists and went to Salisbury to see local sights. They argued that their business is associated with sports nutrition and they often go to Europe on business. Russia releases such information forcing the British society to doubt that the investigation into the poisoning of the Skripal family is reliable and is not the result of political manipulation. Petrov and Boshirov could especially "appear" in European cities especially to back up their legend about tourism and business with concrete facts. By its latest actions, Switzerland expressed the solidarity with the UK, since the same Russian spies are working on its territory, who now lie on the air of Russian television.

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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