Aus­trian sus­pected of spy­ing for Rus­sia

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

BER­LIN: Aus­tria’s gov­ern­ment said Fri­day that a re­tired colonel in the coun­try’s mil­i­tary is sus­pected of hav­ing spied for Rus­sia for decades, a claim swiftly dis­missed by Moscow.

The 70-year-old man from Salzburg, who wasn’t named, al­legedly pro­vided a Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agency with in­for­ma­tion about Aus­tria’s mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, of­fi­cials said.

“Ac­cord­ing to our in­for­ma­tion this ac­tiv­ity may have be­gun in the 1990s and con­tin­ued un­til the year 2018,” Aus­trian Chan­cel­lor Se­bas­tian Kurz told re­porters.

“That means there’s a case of es­pi­onage here.”

Kurz said the Rus­sian charge d’af­faires in Vi­enna was sum­moned to the For­eign Min­istry.

“At the mo­ment we’re de­mand­ing trans­par­ent in­for­ma­tion from the Rus­sian side,” he added.

In Moscow, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov ac­cused Aus­tria of “mi­cro­phone diplo­macy” for mak­ing what he called “pub­lic ac­cu­sa­tions and de­mand­ing an ex­pla­na­tion over an is­sue we know noth­ing about.”

“If a coun­try has con­cerns or sus­pi­cions about an­other coun­try’s ac­tions and its al­leged in­volve­ment seen as a threat, it should di­rectly ask for an ex­pla­na­tion in line with the in­ter­na­tional law,” Lavrov said.

Aus­tria’s De­fense Min­is­ter Mario Ku­nasek said Vi­enna was warned sev­eral weeks ago by a friendly Euro­pean in­tel­li­gence agency about the sus­pected spy.

Ku­nasek said the colonel in ques­tion re­tired five years ago. He said the man, whose elec­tronic de­vices, in­clud­ing a lap­top, were be­ing ex­am­ined, had told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that his han­dlers were in­ter­ested in weapons sys­tems, re­cent mi­gra­tion to Aus­tria and in­for­ma­tion about Aus­trian per­son­al­i­ties.

Salzburg pros­e­cu­tors, who are han­dling the case, de­clined to say whether the man is in cus­tody.

“Whether this was an iso­lated case can’t be said at the mo­ment,” Ku­nasek said.

Kurz, who is the Aus­trian chan­cel­lor, said that based on the in­for­ma­tion avail­able so far “we can in­deed as­sume at the mo­ment that the sus­pi­cion [against the colonel] will be con­firmed.”

If that oc­curs, the case in Aus­tria and re­cent al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian es­pi­onage in the Nether­lands “don’t im­prove re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the Euro­pean Union,” said Kurz, whose coun­try holds the ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency of the 28-na­tion bloc.

He added that Aus­tria’s for­eign min­is­ter, Karin Kneissl, has can­celed a planned trip to Rus­sia. Kneissl was crit­i­cized by Aus­tria’s op­po­si­tion for invit­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to her wed­ding in Au­gust. –

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