Vastavam web: Austria has a launched a probe into an army colonel suspected of spying for Russia for several decades, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday, the latest in a string of cases where Moscow has been accused of espionage in EU states. Kurz told a press conference that the colonel, now retired, is suspected to have begun working with Russian intelligence in the 1990s and carried on until 2018.
Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl has summoned the Russian charge d’affaires over the matter and cancelled an upcoming trip to Russia. “Of course if such cases are confirmed, whether it be in the Netherlands or in Austria, it can’t improve the relationship between the EU and Russia,” Kurz told reporters in Vienna.He was referring to the expulsion of four Russian agents by the Netherlands in April for allegedly planning a cyber-attack on the world’s chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague.
“Russian spying in Europe is unacceptable and to be condemned,” the chancellor added. Austrian Defence Minister Mario Kunasek said the case came to light “a few weeks ago” as a result of information from another European intelligence agency. “We can’t say for the moment whether this is an isolated incident or not,” Kunasek said. He said that the colonel had handed over “technical equipment” including his laptop which was now being examined.
Kunasek said that under questioning, the colonel said the Russians had been interested “in weapons systems, in the migration situation here in Austria in recent years”. According to Austrian press reports, the colonel was paid 300,000 euros ( USD 340,000) for his services.
Austria is not a member of NATO and sets great store by its status as a neutral country. As such it was one of the few European countries not to expel Russian diplomats following the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain in March. Austria’s relationship with Russia has come under particular scrutiny since the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) entered government in coalition last December.
In August, Kneissl caused controversy by inviting Putin as a guest of honour to her wedding. In addition, the FPOe Interior Minister Herbert Kickl admitted in September that Austria had been asked to take “trust-building measures” to retain cooperation with allied secret services. It followed reports that Western secret services were increasingly wary of sharing information with Austria over concerns it could be passed to Moscow.