Swiss lawmakers back tougher action against spies, Russia targeted

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's upper house of parliament has backed a motion to toughen measures to expel spies, taking particular aim at Russian intelligence agents as Bern prepares to host a major summit aimed at paving the way for peace in Ukraine.

Voting 32 in favour and nine against late on Monday, upper house legislators supported the motion entitled "systematically expel Russian spies and other foreign spies" that was backed by President Viola Amherd in an address to parliament.

"Foreign states should feel Switzerland is reacting to violations of its security and defending itself," Amherd said, just over two weeks before her government prepares to host dozens of countries for the Ukraine peace talks.

Amherd said the government wanted to consistently expel intelligence officers whose activities endanger Switzerland's security or its role as a host state, while stressing that the motion would not lead to automatic decision-making.

Franziska Roth, a lawmaker of the centre-left Social Democrats, and one of the proponents of the measure, said neutral Switzerland was a "magnet" for spies due to the concentration of international organizations in the country.

This was particularly true of Russian spies, according to domestic intelligence services, she added.

Arguing Switzerland needed to show "zero tolerance" towards spying, Roth said the motion should serve to strengthen mechanisms for controlling and expelling spies.

With the motion already backed by the lower house in December, the government must now act upon it.

Switzerland will on June 15-16 host a summit near the central city of Lucerne which it hopes will pave the way for a future peace process over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has to date not been invited, with Switerland justifying this on the grounds that Moscow has repeatedly said it has no interest in taking part.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Alison Williams)