Retired Austrian colonel accused of spying for Moscow ‘for decades’

Lavrov blasts West’s ‘loudspeaker diplomacy’ after Austria claims it has exposed ‘Russian spy

Lavrov blasts West’s ‘loudspeaker diplomacy’ after Austria claims it has exposed ‘Russian spy

Earlier, the Austrian government confirmed reports in the national media that a retired Austrian colonel was being prosecuted for espionage.

In this Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018 photo Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, dances with Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl as he attends the wedding of Kneissl with Austrian businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in Gamlitz, southern Austria.

It summoned Austria's ambassador in Moscow, mirroring an earlier move by Vienna.

In response, Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned Austria's ambassador on November 9 to demand an explanation about the accusations, Russian news agencies reported.

Moscow told Austrian Ambassador Johannes Eigner that it was "puzzled why our Austrian partners chose not to discuss their suspicions with us through the established channels of dialogue, but instead resorted to what has become the customary method for many Western countries - a sensationalized leak to the media and a public demand for an explanation from Russian Federation", according to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had been "unpleasantly surprised" by the latest news from Austria.

"Of course if such cases are confirmed, whether it be in the Netherlands or in Austria, it can't improve the relationship between the European Union and Russia", Kurz told reporters in Vienna.

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

"Whether this was an isolated case can't be said at the moment", said Kunasek.

The suspect reportedly received 300,000 euros from his alleged employers in Russian Federation, and now faces a maximum sentence of two years in jail.

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.

Austria is not a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and sets great store by its status as a neutral country.

Vienna's relations with Moscow have been under particular scrutiny since Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) became a coalition partner of the current government a year ago.

Over the past year Vienna has sought to cast itself as a bridge between the Kremlin and the European Union and was one of the few EU member states not to expel any Russian diplomats after the chemical weapons attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.