Spiez Laboratory

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The Spiez Laboratory is a division of Switzerland's Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) which provides services relating to arms control (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical), protection measures, health and incident management for international organisations, authorities and the general population.[1]

Of the five permanent designated Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) labs in the world that have been certified to perform chemical weapons tests, the Spiez Laboratory received the highest rating in 2015.[2]

National authority CWC

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force on 29 April 1997 and has been ratified by 192 states (as of November 2015). They undertake to destroy any chemical weapons stockpiles within 10 years, not to develop, produce or deploy such weapons and to subject their chemical industry to a strict international verification regime. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) resident in The Hague supervises implementation of the CWC in the signatory states.

The signatory states are obliged to declare the production, dissemination, use and transfer of certain chemicals beyond a certain limit to the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW and to permit inspections on their own territory. Here the inspectors check whether the declarations are correct and complete. Compliance with the treaty is thus verified and transparency and confidence is established between the member states.

Switzerland has no chemical weapons. However, its chemical and pharmaceutical industry work with chemicals that are subject to CWC controlling. These chemicals are what are known as dual-use goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. Therefore, Swiss companies involved in CWC relevant activities and, on the basis of an agreement, also those of the Principality of Liechtenstein are subject to corresponding declaration and inspection duties. The CWC obliges all signatory states to create a national authority for the implementation of the CWC. In Switzerland the Security Policy Division (ASP) of the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA) chairs the national authority. Other representatives in this authority are: State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), International Relations Defence (IRD) and Spiez Laboratory of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS).

Skripal case

On 14 April 2018, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had received information from the Spiez Laboratory suggesting the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were exposed to a non-lethal substance known as BZ.

Lavrov claimed the laboratory had passed Russia confidential information after analysing samples of the agent used in the attack on the Skripals in Salisbury last month.

Sergei Lavrov said the BZ toxin was not produced in Russia, but was in service in Britain, the United States and other NATO nations, Russian state media reported:

"Based on the results of the examination, traces of the toxic chemical BZ and its precursors, related to chemical weapons of the second category in accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, were found in the samples,” Mr Lavrov said, according to state-owned Sputnik News.
“BZ is a nerve agent temporarily disabling a person. The effect is achieved within 30-50 minutes and lasts up to four days."

Lavrov noted the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had mentioned neither Novichok, nor BZ in its independent report into the poisoning.

However, the OPCW did say its scientists had “confirmed the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical”.

Lavrov nonetheless insisted: “If, of course, the OPCW refutes the fact of using the laboratory of Spiez, it will be interesting to listen to its explanations."[3]

Embassy press release

The Russian Embassy in London issued the following press release:

Q. Is there any new information regarding the findings of experts from Switzerland in connection with the Salisbury poisoning?
A. According to information from the Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-protection in Spiez, its experts received samples collected in Salisbury by the OPCW specialists and finished testing them on 27 March 2018.
The experts of the Institute discovered traces of toxic chemical called “BZ” and its precursors. It is a Schedule 2 substance under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“BZ” is a chemical agent, which is used to temporarily incapacitate people. The desired psychotoxic effect is reached in 30-60 minutes after application of the agent and lasts up to four days. According to the information the Russian Federation possesses, this agent was used in the armed forces of the USA, United Kingdom and several others NATO member states. No stocks of such substance ever existed either in the Soviet Union or in the Russian Federation.
In addition, the Swiss specialists discovered strong concentration of traces of the nerve agent of A-234 type in its initial states as well as its decomposition products.
In view of the experts, such concentration of the A-234 agent would result in inevitable fatal outcome of its administration. Moreover, considering its high volatility, the detection of this substance in its initial state (pure form and high concentration) is extremely suspicious as the samples have been taken several weeks since the poisoning.
It looks highly likely that the “BZ” nerve agent was used in Salisbury. The fact that Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey have already been discharged from hospital, and Sergei Skripal is on his way to recovery, only supports such conclusion.
All this information was not mentioned in the final OPCW report at all.
Considering the above, we have numerous serious questions to all interested parties, including the OPCW.[4]

Spiez Lab response

"Only OPCW can comment this assertion. But we can repeat what we stated 10 days ago: We have no doubt that Porton Down has identified Novichok. PD - like Spiez - is a designated lab of the OPCW. The standards in verification are so rigid that one can trust the findings."[5]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:“Former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal May Have Been Poisoned by BZ Nerve Agent”blog post16 April 2018Ludwig De BraeckeleerForeign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “Former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal May Have Been Poisoned by BZ Nerve Agent
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