The Russian ambassador in Bern has refuted claims by the Swiss press that one in four Russian diplomats based in the country is a spy. He accused journalists of distorting reality and drawing their own conclusions from assumptions.
In an interview on Thursday evening on Swiss Public Television SRFexternal link, Sergueï Garmoni said the allegations were a campaign organised by "certain circles". He said that he fully shares the view of Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis of the need for an “open and constructive dialogue" between the two countries.
According to Garmoni, there are no facts to prove illegal espionage activities on the part of Russia. "Everything we have heard is based on assumptions," he said, quoting a Russian saying that small lies lead to big ones. Last Sunday, the papers SonntagsZeitung and Le Matin Dimanche published a report that claimed one in four Russian diplomats based in Switzerland is a spy; their story was reportedly based on a confidential intelligence assessment commissioned by the Swiss government
In a statement released on Monday, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) said either the Russian ambassador or the chargé d'affaires had been summoned three times since spring 2018. The first time following the attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in southern England. The second time about "misunderstandings about the role" of the Spiez laboratory and about failed computer attacks on this laboratory which analyses chemical and biological weapons, including the nerve agent Novichok, the same that Britain says Russia used to try to murder Skripal. The third summons was in response to London's publication of the results of its investigations into the Skripal case. At these meetings, FDFA reiterated its condemnation of any illegal intelligence gathering activity on its territory and called for a more nuanced policy based on dialogue.
In response, the Russian authorities summoned the Swiss and Dutch ambassadors in Moscow on Tuesday to denounce the "unfounded accusations" that Russian spies tried to hack into the Spiez laboratory and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Lausanne. Swiss Ambassador Yves Rossier was told that such "confrontational rhetoric" could harm relations between the two countries.
Cassis is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov next week in New York. This meeting, which has been planned for a long time, should also address the espionage allegations. According to ambassador Garmonin, Lavrov should take this opportunity to mention the need to return to the friendly relations that have always prevailed between Switzerland and Russia and which must continue in the future.