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Ex-KGB claims Russian agents ‘assume false identities’ to spy in Switzerland

Sergei Jirnov

Jirnov says Switzerland is a high priority target for Russian spies.


Russian spies have been operating in Switzerland under assumed identities, using documents that change their nationalities, a former KGB agent has told Swiss public television RTS.

Sergei Jirnov, who lifted the lid on KGB activities in his book “Chased by the KGB – Birth of a Spy”, also says that Russian spying has increased under the regime of Vladimir Putin. His claims appear to validate complaints by the Swiss authorities about Russian espionage in recent years.

Jirnov told RTSexternal link that agents would assume the identities of “friendly” nations, such as the United States, Britain or France, to avoid detection by the authorities. He himself spied on the French during a covert mission to Paris, but now lives in France. 

"Of course, you have the same physical appearance, you stay the same man or the same woman,” he said in an interview. “But everything else changes, your nationality, your name, your origins - you change the whole story around yourself.”

Jirnov added that spying operations had been increased since Putin came to power. “With Putin, the level of Russian espionage has become two to three times more intense than during the Cold War. It’s much more direct, aggressive, and even insulting to the target country.”

“Switzerland has a high level of interest from the Russian intelligence services. It is in the top five or six countries due to all the international organisations there.”

Diplomatic row

Earlier this year, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) warned in its “Security Switzerland 2019external link” report that Russian spying activity in Switzerland continues at a high level.

Allegations of Russian cyber-attacks at the Swiss-based European headquarters of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Last year, FIS said it had foiled a Russian plot to hack a Swiss laboratory that tests nerve agents such as Novichok, used in an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England.

This led to a diplomatic showdown between the two countries that was only defused last November when Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said the situation has “calmed down”.

The Russian embassy in Switzerland rejected the latest allegations from Jirnov, telling RTS that they were “fantasy”.

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