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Moscow raid on nerve agent test lab foiled

16 September 2018

The lab has analysed suspected poison gas deployed in Syria and samples of the Novichok nerve agent that Britain accused Russian Federation of using to try to murder former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday he has no information on Russian citizens expelled from the Netherlands in March over an alleged plot targeting a Swiss laboratory which tests nerve agents such as Novichok. "If some facts are presented to us, maybe we can comment on them", he said.

Moscow quickly rejected the accusation, the latest Western claim about Russian spying and other acts of interference. At the time, OPCW was investigating the Skripal poisoning and chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The AFP news agency reported on September 15 that the two Russians expelled from the Netherlands are also being investigated by Swiss authorities for an attempted cyberattack on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

This was reported by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger on September 13.

FIS spokeswoman Isabelle Graber: 'The Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies discovered in The Hague and expelled from the same place.

This had "prevented an illegal action on critical Swiss infrastructure", the FIS said in what is taken to be a reference to the Spiez Laboratory.

The Swiss attorney general's office confirmed it had identified "two individuals" as part of a broader investigation opened a year ago.

Switzerland's Foreign Ministry said on September 14 that it summoned Russia's ambassador to "protest against this attempted attack" and demanded that Russian Federation "immediately" end its spying activities on Swiss soil.

But Russia's top diplomat scoffed at the time it took for the case to come to public light. According to a report in April by the Russian news agency TASS, Lavrov received information "confidentially" that Spiez found traces of USA chemical warfare agents in the samples. "It is absurd, just new groundless allegations".

The Dutch government announced on March 26 that it would expel two Russian "intelligence agents" who worked at the Russian embassy in The Hague, without giving further details. Russia has been accused of the poisoning of Skripal, who originally worked for Russian intelligence services.

Andreas Bucher, a spokesperson for Spiez Laboratory, also declined to comment on the deportations.

"We've had indications that we were in the crosshairs", Bucher says.

Bucher also wouldn't comment on whether the lab analyzed samples linked to the Skripal case, saying it was "contractually bound" to confidentiality in its work for the United Nations -supported Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Although Spiez Laboratory has not officially acknowledged receiving a sample, it is widely believed to have done so, according to Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent chemical weapons expert based in France. Lavrov said earlier this year that the Spiez lab had analyzed samples from the England poisoning investigation.

Moscow raid on nerve agent test lab foiled