MOSCOW – Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov told his Austrian counterpart, Karin Kneissl, on Saturday that he considered Vienna’s accusations of espionage inadmissible and said there was no proof for the charge.
Lavrov spoke on the phone with Kneissl after it emerged that a retired Austrian colonel allegedly sold secrets to Russian intelligence services over two decades.
According to a statement released by the Russian ministry, Lavrov stressed the “unacceptability of the practice of raising public unsubstantiated accusations, which is in direct contradiction to the norms of international communication.”
In addition, the Russian minister insisted that “any possible mutual concerns should be discussed through established channels of dialogue on the basis of facts.”
Meanwhile, Kneissl explained the reasons for Vienna to publicly denounce the alleged spy and expressed hope that the diplomatic spat would not affect the development of bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
The Austrian foreign minister had on Friday canceled her planned trip to Russia, scheduled for Dec. 2-3, due to the scandal.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said earlier that 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 on Friday morning.
The former colonel, 70, was ousted following a tip-off from an allied spy agency, Austrian Defense Minister Mario Kunasek told journalists.
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.
Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Austria’s ambassador to Moscow, Johannes Eigner, after the accusations were first made public by the Austrian chancellor.
In contrast to most European Union countries, Austria did not expel any Russian diplomats after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom.
The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) – which was founded by a former Nazi SS officer and is now a junior partner in the governing coalition with Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) – has close ties to the nationalist United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin.
The FPÖ has consistently advocated an end to European sanctions on the Kremlin.