Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credits: Benjamin Polge / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP 14:28 pm, June 26, 2023

According to the Swiss Intelligence Service (SRC), the war in Ukraine has strengthened great power rivalry and turned Switzerland into a hub for Russian and Chinese espionage. "Russia has destroyed the rules-based peace order in Europe," notes the SRC.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has strengthened great-power rivalry and made Switzerland - home to many international organisations - a hub for Russian and Chinese espionage, according to the Swiss Intelligence Service. "Russia has destroyed the rules-based peace order in Europe," the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) soberly notes in its annual report published on Monday. The SRC is also in charge of counter-espionage.

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Switzerland, a strategic country for Russian spies

A blasting that means that "international forums for the promotion of peace and collective security such as the UN and the OSCE have further lost their effectiveness and a new stable world order is not on the horizon," analyze the Swiss spy services. Added to this is the trend "towards a bipolar world order, marked by systemic rivalry between the United States and China". And so "foreign espionage activities, mainly Russian and Chinese, still pose a high threat to Switzerland," according to the report.

Due, among other things, to its role as a host state hosting numerous international organisations, "Switzerland is one of the countries in which the largest number of members of the Russian intelligence services are deployed under diplomatic cover".

One-third of Russian diplomats still work for intelligence

"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 still work for the Russian intelligence services," Christian Dussey, the head of the intelligence services, told a news conference. The Swiss secret service has only 450 employees. Geneva is home to the European headquarters of the UN as well as the headquarters of many UN agencies.

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It is also where hundreds of diplomats regularly meet to participate in the various annual meetings of these bodies, whether it is the Human Rights Council, which is currently taking place, the World Health Assembly or the International Labour Conference. So many opportunities for a spy to blend in, make contacts and gather intelligence in a city where many financiers, economic and political leaders also meet.

Switzerland's mandate on the UN Security Council - since January 2023 and for the first time in its history - "accentuates the threat posed by espionage to the Swiss" working on Security Council files, according to the report. They inevitably become targets for spies. The war in Ukraine also forces the SRC to focus on regions it had no eye on until then, to prevent Russia from circumventing laws prohibiting the export of weapons equipment by relying on companies based in the Eurasian Economic Union but also in Turkey or India, notes the SRC.