MOSCOW – Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned Austria’s ambassador to Moscow on Friday after it emerged that a retired Austrian colonel allegedly spied on behalf of the Russian intelligence services over two decades.
The Kremlin has rejected Vienna’s accusations and lamented that the Central European country has avoided what it called traditional diplomatic protocols established for these kinds of disputes.
“The Austrian ambassador has been summoned to the (foreign) ministry,” a government source told Russian news agency Interfax.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said earlier in the day that his government was investigating the retired military officer, who allegedly supplied Russian spies with intelligence on Austria’s weapons systems and migration figures since the 1990s.
“There is a suspicion in Austria that a retired colonel from the Austrian army worked with a Russian intelligence agency and aided it for many years,” Kurz said at a press briefing.
Austria’s foreign minister, Karin Kneissl, has canceled an official trip to Russia scheduled for Dec. 2-3, Kurz added.
The former colonel, 70, was ousted following a tip-off from an allied spy agency, Austrian Defense Minister Mario Kunasek told journalists on Friday morning.
The prosecutor’s office in the city of Salzburg confirmed that the suspect was being sued by the defense ministry for revealing State secrets, which – if found guilty – could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was told of the affair shortly after a meeting in Moscow with his counterpart from the Comoros, Souef Mohamed El Amine.
“I just found out about that. It’s a very unpleasant surprise,” Lavrov said at the joint press conference.
According to the minister, diplomatic law outlines direct communications between parties when suspicions such as this emerge.
Lavrov said that Austria and other European countries “lately choose to accuse us publicly through the ‘diplomacy of the megaphone’ and demand explanations for issues we are not aware of.”
Various Austrian media outlets have reported that the colonel allegedly received 300,000 euros ($340,142) from Russia for the information supplied over the years.