Russia slams ‘unfounded’ Austrian spy accusations

MOSCOW: Russia said on Saturday that Austria’s “unfounded accusations” in a spy scandal were unacceptable while Vienna expressed hope the affair would not hurt bilateral ties.
On Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said a probe had been launched into a colonel suspected of spying for Russia for several decades.
The spy row risks hurting Russia’s ties with one of its rare European allies.
It is the latest in a string of cases where Moscow has been accused of espionage in EU states and elsewhere.
Moscow said Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl called her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to explain Vienna’s motives.
She “expressed hope that the steps will not affect the further development of bilateral cooperation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s displeasure that Austria chose to air its grievances in public.
He said the practice of voicing “unfounded accusations” publicly was unacceptable, the foreign ministry said.
“Any possible mutual concerns should be discussed through established channels of dialogue and be based on facts,” the statement said.
In August, Kneissl sparked a row in Austria and beyond after she waltzed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and bowed to him at her wedding, with critics saying her behaviour hurt the country’s image.
Austria suspects a 70-year-old army official of working with Russian intelligence for several decades and is investigating him for allegedly revealing state secrets.
Austrian defence ministry spokesman Col Michael Bauer Bauer told the Kurier newspaper on Saturday that the information passed on by the suspect “ranged from unimportant things to more sensitive information.”
However, other media reports suggested that the colonel wasn’t in a position to reveal the highest levels of classified data.
The Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper reported suspicions that he had passed on information from Nato seminars and courses he had attended, as well as information available on the army’s intranet system. — AFP