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 reportedly targeted a Swiss laboratory.

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.

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. But in a Facebook post, the embassy described the latest reports in Swiss media as a “groundless and unproven attack on Russia”.

It added: “Sunday’s article about Russian diplomats in Switzerland has no facts and now cites secret documents that nobody has seen and likely, were never written. The authors’ attempt to force their biased attitude to Russians working in Switzerland looks absurd.”

In the anti-doping world, Wada said on Sunday that attempts to access its computers appeared to date back “to the end of 2016”. The agency added that it had “invested heavily in measures to protect its systems from attack. There is no evidence that this alleged attempt managed to penetrate that security.”

The date the attorney general’s inquiry began in 2017 was significant because a few months earlier Wada had reported more than 1,000 Russian athletes had engaged in systematic doping. Wada’s work later contributed to the IOC barring the Russian olympic committee from competing in this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

At the weekend, the attorney general’s office said the individuals identified in its Wada investigations, which were reported earlier by Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, were the same as those referred to by the FIS, without giving more details.



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