The Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported that the men were carrying equipment that could be used to break into the Spiez laboratorys IT network when they were seized.
Dutch expelled Russians over alleged novichok lab hacking plot
Isabelle Graber, the head of communications at the Swiss intelligence service, the FIS, said in a statement issued to the Guardian: The Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies discovered in The Hague and expelled from the same place.
The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) participated actively in this operation together with its Dutch and British partners. The FIS has thus contributed to the prevention of illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure.
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for MI6, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned in Salisbury on 4 March.
The Spiez laboratory, near Berne, subsequently confirmed a British claim that the Skripals had been victims of the military-grade nerve agent novichok. The laboratory has also been investigating poison gas attacks by the Syrian regime backed by the Kremlin.
It is unclear why the two expelled men were in The Hague, which hosts the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The agents were allegedly targeting the Spiez Laboratory which has in recent months investigated toxic gas attacks in Syria and the March nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, in the UK city of Salisbury.
The Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection said in June that the Spiez laboratory had been targeted by hackers said to be from the Russian government-affiliated group Sandworm. It is not clear whether the expulsion of the two spies from the Netherlands was linked.
The Sandworm hackers posed as the laboratorys organising committee and circulated a document with instructions for a forthcoming conference on chemical weapons in September. They then targeted chemical weapons experts who had been invited to the conference and opened the document.
Someone posed as the Spiez laboratory, Kurt Münger, of the Federal Office for Civil Protection, said at the time. We immediately informed the conference invitees that the document was not ours and pointed to the danger. The laboratory itself has not registered any outflow of data.
In an interview with the Russian TV channel RT, two men identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who have been accused by the UK government of poisoning the Skripals, admitted they had visited Switzerland on a number of occasions.
1:24 Men claiming to be Salisbury novichok attack suspects speak to Russian state TV – video Petrov, who claims to be in the fitness and nutrition business, but is accused with Boshirov of being a member of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, said: If memory serves me well, we had just a couple of trips to Switzerland. We spent some time during the new year holidays there. Our trips are not always business-related. We went to Switzerland on holiday. We did have some business trips there as well, but I cant really remember when it was.
In a statement, the Russian embassy in Switzerland neither confirmed nor denied the arrests. The embassy called the reports fabrications and said it would not qualify attempts to stir up Russophobic sentiment.
The two men were preparing to travel to the Spiez lab in Switzerland, the papers say. At the time the lab was analysing data related to the poison gas attacks by the Syrian regime as well as the nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said the agency did not know who the reports were referring to and called on European officials to release more information.
The Spiez laboratory advises national authorities and international organisations in implementing and developing arms control and non-proliferation agreements, according to its website.
The laboratory is also involved in international missions relating to arms control and environmental protection.
In April Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, claimed in public he had received confidential information from the Spiez laboratory that the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals in Britain could be a substance never produced in the Soviet Union or Russia.
He said the documents pointed at a western-designed nerve agent, the so-called BZ substance, as a likely cause of the poisoning, thus excluding Russias involvement in the attack. He did not disclose the source of his confidential information but said: We are asking the OPCW why the information which reflected the conclusions of specialists from the Spiez laboratory was completely omitted from the final document.
His allegations were later rejected since the BZ substance was only being used in the lab as a counter-sample to novichok.
CC0 / U.S. Department of State / U.S. Embassy in HavanaCounter-Espionage Measures in US, Canadian Embassies May Be True Source of Sonic Attacks – DoctorOn Thursday, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported that earlier this year two Russian nationals have been arrested in the Netherlands on spying charges and then deported.
The role of the OPCW has become a hotly contested diplomatic issue as Russia tries to rebut claims that forces loyal to the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, have repeatedly used chemical weapons in Syria. It has a set number of certified laboratories where experts are empowered to examine suspected chemical weapons samples.
The west and Russia have accused one another of preparing to stage chemical weapons attacks in the Idlib region of Syria. Russia claims the west staged videos of fake Syrian attacks to manufacture justification for reprisals. It is expected that France, the UK and possibly Germany would be involved in any counter-attacks.
The media alleged that the suspects had tried to spy on the Spiez laboratory near Bern, engaged in nuclear, biological and chemical research, but their plot was foiled by the joint work of Swiss, Dutch and the UK intelligence.
Russian officials for more than a week have been claiming camera crews, aided by the White Helmets volunteer civil defence group, are preparing to stage fake chemical attacks.
The spies, who are not the same men suspected of attacking Sergei Skripal, were sent back to Russia in the spring
The Dutch government has declined to comment on the expulsions. Two Russian diplomats were expelled from the Netherlands in the wake of the Salisbury attack in a show of solidarity involving more than 25 countries worldwide.
Two Russian spies were arrested as they tried to spy on a Swiss lab where samples from the Salisbury novichok attack were tested, it has been claimed.
The two agents – who are not the men accused by Britain of carrying out the nerve agent attack – are said to have targeted Switzerlands Spiez laboratory earlier this year.
It is claimed the pair were carrying equipment which they would have used to hack the laboratorys computers, although Swiss officials said no data had been stolen.
The men were arrested in the Netherlands and Swiss authorities are now investigating, various media outlets in Switzerland reported.
The two agents are accused of targeting Switzerlands Spiez laboratory (pictured) earlier this year in an alleged attempt to hack the systems of the lab, where Novichok samples were tested
Swiss, Dutch and British intelligence worked together to foil the plot directed at the laboratory near Bern, which houses experts in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The case of the Russian spies discovered in The Hague and then expelled from The Hague is known to Swiss authorities, a spokeswoman for the Swiss intelligence services told AFP.
The Swiss spy agency actively participated in this operation in collaboration with its Dutch and British partners in prevention of illegal actions against critical Swiss infrastructure, she said.
The lab tested samples of the Salisbury nerve agent and has also examined chemical weapons which Syrian President Assad is suspected of using during the countrys civil war.
It carries out analytical work for the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In April this year Moscow claimed tests at the Spiez lab had found traces of a Western-produced nerve agent in the Salisbury samples.
Lab chiefs did not comment directly on the claim but said they had no doubt British experts at Porton Down had correctly identified novichok.
Swiss, Dutch and British intelligence worked together to foil the plot directed at the laboratory (pictured) near Bern, which houses experts in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons