In mid-August, Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl danced with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his wedding – an act of bonhomie that made a continent deeply skeptical about Russia's foreign policy only a few months after an assassination attempt against a former Russian spy in England.
But now, Austria is angry at his own allegations of subterfuge in the Kremlin. And on Friday, the Austrian government announced that Kneissl had canceled a trip to Russia scheduled for next month and summoned the Russian official.
The Austrian authorities claim to have discovered that a retired army colonel was spying for Russia for several decades, from the 1990s until this year. The Krone newspaper reported that the unnamed colonel had received the equivalent of US $ 340,000 for confidential information on air force and air force systems. Austrian artillery. He could face two years in prison if he is found guilty.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said at a press conference Friday that if the allegations were confirmed, it would not improve the already tense relations between Russia and the European Union. "Spying is unacceptable," he said, according to the Austrian news agency.
Kneissl also warned that if the suspicions of the Austrian government were found to be correct, this would impose "a heavy burden on the bilateral relations between Austria and Russia".
Russia denied knowing of the spy scandal and summoned the Austrian ambassador to ask for explanations. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Austria was violating international communication standards and was conducting a "megaphone diplomacy" by making the accusations public so quickly.
"They accuse us in public and then demand public explanations of a problem we do not know anything about," Lavrov said, according to the Russian news agency.
The scandal could mark a turning point in relations between Russia and the new Austrian government. Vienna had previously sought neutrality in foreign affairs, trying to maintain ties with Russia and its allies in the European Union. But when a coalition of the center-right People's Party and the far-right Freedom Party took control of the government, the country adopted a number of positions that seemed to be aimed at closer to Moscow.
Following the poisoning of the double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, this year, many Western countries have expelled Russian diplomats. But Austria did not – and she expressed opposition to US sanctions against Russia.
Kurz also took a stand on migration and other problems on a European scale that opposed it to powerful European leaders such as German Angela Merkel – gestures warmly welcomed by a Kremlin often opposed Europe, but also by the ambassador of President Trump in Germany Richard Grenell, who described the young Austrian Chancellor as "rock star".
The country was perceived as a possible link between Moscow and Washington and was evoked as a meeting place between Putin and Trump. Finland was finally chosen instead.
Austrian Defense Minister Mario Kunasek said Friday that the alleged espionage was discovered just a few weeks ago, as a result of a friendly intelligence service council. Although the Austrian authorities did not name the country that provided this information, the Der Standard newspaper reported that it came from the German intelligence services.
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