The Federal Council made several bad traps: It was completely unprepared for the Ukraine war, criticized the audit delegation from Parliament. Switzerland was initially overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. The adoption of sanctions against Russia degenerated into complete chaos. And Federal President Ignazio Cassis (61) was criticized for not wanting to name Russia’s war crimes.
Dealing with Russian diplomats also raised eyebrows. Germany, France or Italy – numerous countries reacted immediately to the atrocities in Ukraine and kicked out Russian diplomats. The Federal Council is different: it has officially refrained from expulsion to this day.
Switzerland works behind the scenes
The intelligence service also warns that around a third of the 221 Russian diplomats in the country are said to be spies. Cassis was once again accused of treating Putin’s henchmen with kid gloves. His foreign department justified the reluctance with wanting to “maintain the communication channels with Russia”.
But now it’s clear that the Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) isn’t turning a blind eye. Behind the scenes, Switzerland is also putting Russian diplomats in their place. However, in order not to endanger possible intermediary services, it proceeds with less publicity.
The fact is: If a spy threatens Switzerland’s internal security, he too has to pack his bags. The FDFA then turns directly to the embassy and discreetly asks them to remove the person – which is what usually happens, according to well-informed sources.
One eye is often turned a blind eye
Officially, the FDFA will neither confirm nor deny this. How many Russian embassy employees have had to go since the outbreak of the Ukraine war also remains a secret.
The procedure behind the scenes is also known to foreign politicians in Parliament. “Switzerland is simply more subtle. But we don’t want any espionage here either,” says one. They are not allowed to comment on it publicly. Commission secrecy applies. The diplomatic approach fits Switzerland’s neutrality, says another.
The situation is not new for Switzerland either. Especially in international Geneva there is a high density of spies – from all over the world. These are often also known, according to diplomatic circles. But as long as they don’t break the law, “the unwritten law applies that one eye is turned a blind eye.”
“No sign of weakness”
This is also the case in many other countries. The Europe-wide agreed expulsion of Russian diplomats is therefore primarily about sending a political signal. Not only staff who work for the intelligence service are affected. Just because the Federal Council does not want to send this signal “is not a sign of weakness”.
This is sometimes viewed more critically in Parliament. According to another foreign politician, the Federal Council “definitely wants to avoid Russia losing face”. “The FDFA is still clinging to the dream of a major peace summit in Switzerland and therefore doesn’t want to spoil it with Russia.” (dba)