Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is expected to have a lasting impact on national and international security policy. Switzerland’s security continues to be shaped in particular by the growing rivalry between major powers. The Federal Intelligence Service’s (FIS) abilities to anticipate, identify and assess in time threats and developments that are of strategic importance to Switzerland are crucial for taking preventive measures. The latest FIS situation report presents the main developments in intelligence over the past year.
In February 2022, with its war of aggression on Ukraine, Russia not only committed a gross violation of international law, but also destroyed the decades-old European security order. The risk of a direct military conflict between Russia and NATO has increased. Similarly, the war in Ukraine has prompted a new thinking in Europe: the EU has adopted several sanctions packages, in particular in the financial and economic spheres, announced an aid package to stabilise Ukraine financially and economically, supplied lethal assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces for the first time, and been quick to grant temporary protection to refugees.
Strengthening of the EU’s security and defence policy
With its adoption of the Strategic Compass in March 2021, the EU has set out an action plan to strengthen the EU’s security and defence policy. Germany has performed a U-turn in its policy towards Russia and announced a massive increase in its defence spending. Sweden and Finland have submitted applications to join NATO. The military threat to Europe from Russia has once again become a more pressing concern. This is leading to a shift in attitudes in discussions on security policy in Europe. The EU, together with NATO, will probably emerge from this crisis strengthened in its role as a security actor, while other institutions in Europe’s security architecture, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, will be weakened.
Strategic rivalry between the USA and China
The pandemic has increased the strategic rivalry between the USA and China and hardened Europe’s image of China. Perceptions of the threat posed by China, which differed on the two sides of the Atlantic, have converged; like the USA, the EU and the European NATO allies now attach a higher weighting to the strategic aspects of China’s rise to global power status.
Despite the current confrontation with Russia, the USA wants, as far as possible, to continue to focus on China, which it perceives as its only near-peer strategic rival. Containing Russia and strengthening NATO’s eastern flank will, however, initially tie up more US resources than had been planned, even though the European states seem ready for a better-balanced transatlantic burden-sharing.
Espionage and cyber crime pose a permanent threat
Espionage is an ever-present phenomenon – espionage activity is already at a high level and is continuing to increase. Geneva, as an international centre, remains an espionage hotspot. Recently, various European states have expelled Russian intelligence officers, which might lead the Russian services to deploy their forces in states, like Switzerland, which have not carried out any expulsions.
In conflicts in general and in warfare in particular, cyber activities are always to be expected. For example, the US, the UK and the EU have attributed cyber attacks on commercial satellite communication networks at the end of February 2022 to Russia. Russian cyber operations against public and private Ukrainian networks have been going on since January 2022. During the retreat of Russian forces in the north of Ukraine in mid-April 2022, hackers – probably part of the Sandworm group attributed to Russia’s military intelligence service GRU – attacked Ukrainian electric power supply systems.
Violent extremism and terrorism still relevant
Social polarisation and fragmentation bring with them the risk of violent extremism. Violent Covid extremism is an example of this. However, as the pandemic comes to an end, it is likely that this form of extremism will calm down and diminish. However, the FIS expects that certain individuals or groups, who have been radicalised during the pandemic, will turn to new issues and continue their violent activities. Violent left-wing and right-wing extremists remain the primary threat.
The terrorist threat in Switzerland remains elevated. The threat emanates primarily from the jihadist movement, and in particular from individuals who have been inspired by jihadist propaganda. “Islamic State” and al-Qaeda are the major exponents of the jihadist movement in Europe and are thus also central to the terrorist threat in Switzerland. The terrorist threat is becoming more diffuse in Europe since 2020, because it is increasingly emanating from individuals acting autonomously and who have no direct links to “Islamic State” or al-Qaeda.