Neutral states have always been regarded as a kind of playground by Russian spooks. The KGB and its successors felt free to operate in Vienna, hiring stooges, running networks, infiltrating international organisations. While there was western outrage at Vladimir Putin’s land-grab of Crimea in 2014, it was soon back to business as normal in Austria. Putin was spotted waltzing at the wedding of the Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl, rewarding her with an approving smile as she performed a deep curtsy before him.
It’s not just Austria. Neutral and non-aligned Cyprus is still a pretty safe place for Russian money. In summer, wealthy Russian wives perform a charity run in high heels through the streets of Limassol. In Putin’s St Petersburg days he made at least 19 private visits across the border to Helsinki. Neutral status was perceived as an open invitation to subvert western sanctions, to hide wealth and wash it, to park yachts and invest in property.