REVEALED: Inside Switzerland’s ‘titanic’ security effort for Biden visit

REVEALED: Inside Switzerland's 'titanic' security effort for Biden visit
Police in Geneva get ready for Joe Biden's visit. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP
Switzerland is mobilising a "titanic" security effort for Wednesday's meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, deploying around 4,000 police, troops and security personnel to guard the summit from all angles.

Geneva is well used to hosting heads of state visiting the United Nations and other international institutions in the Swiss city.

But such showpiece summits are rare and Switzerland is leaving little to chance for the encounter between Biden and Putin — the first meeting between US and Russian presidents since Putin met Donald Trump in 2018.

READ MORE: How will the US-Russia summit in Geneva affect local residents?

“It’s an opportunity to show what we are capable of,” said Yvon Langel, commander of the Swiss army’s 1st Territorial Division.

It is also the first showpiece Geneva summit between the heads of state from Washington and Moscow since US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time, in neutral Switzerland, in 1985. 

Giant motorcade

After Biden’s arrival at Geneva Airport on Tuesday, the US president was whisked to the nearby Intercontinental Hotel in a vast motorcade featuring dozens of vehicles.

Geneva police chief Colonel Monica Bonfanti said her officers generally only knew motorcade escorts of the required magnitude from theory textbooks.

Several blocks around the five-star Intercontinental were blocked off with barbed-wire fencing, with parking banned throughout the neighbourhood and police redirecting traffic.

READ MORE: Biden pushes US fighter jets in talks with Swiss

For the summit, the waterfront and Lake Geneva itself will be entirely sealed off within the city centre, while airspace will be closed.

The summit venue, the La Grange villa and its surrounding park, has been ringed with two kilometres of barbed wire-topped security fencing.

“We are at the dawn of a historic moment,” said Stephane Theimer, deputy director of the Swiss national police.

“The task of the Geneva police is titanic,” he told reporters outside La Grange ahead of the summit, calling it a “gigantic deployment”.

Around 2,000 police staff — 95 percent of the total Geneva police workforce — have been mobilised, backed up by 900 officers from elsewhere in Switzerland.

The police in neighbouring France, a few kilometres away, are also on alert.

Fighter jets at the ready

Around a thousand troops have also been deployed, while the Swiss air force will be policing the sealed-off skies for up to 50 kilometres around the city.

Helicopters and fighter jets will be on duty.

However, Colonel Pierre-Yves Eberle, head of the air force operations centre, said the summit would not be buzzed with low-flying jets “unless we had a problem” with a suspect aircraft. The army was stationing a battalion at the airport, while a surface-to-air defence system has been deployed.

Camouflaged soldiers with backpacks and automatic weapons have been on duty outside La Grange, while police sniffer dogs have been checking out vehicles parked near the perimeter.

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Mobile military radar stations with spinning scanners have been deployed on the lakeside, normally the domain of ice cream eaters taking a stroll past the small boats moored along the waterfront.

Switzerland’s defence minister Viola Amherd was spending Tuesday at the Payerne airbase “to witness how the air force is ensuring air security during the summit”, a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

People in Geneva are being encouraged to work from home on Wednesday due to the likely level of disruption — with traffic gridlock expected across the entire city.

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