Austrian military officer 'spied for Russian Federation for decades'

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz

Austrian authorities have questioned a recently retired senior military officer on suspicion of spying for Russian Federation for decades, and demanded an explanation from Moscow, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday.

Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl has summoned the Russian charge d'affaires over the matter and canceled an upcoming trip to Russia scheduled for December 2-3, Kurz added.

Austrian Defence Minister Mario Kunasek said that Vienna had learned about an Austrian retired colonel suspected of conducting intelligence activity for Russian Federation from "a friendly service a few weeks ago".

When questioned, the colonel said that the Russians had been interested in "weapons systems" as well as "the migration situation here in Austria".

Austria became aware of the case weeks ago thanks to a tip-off from an ally's intelligence service and "technical devices" including a laptop have been seized, Kunasek said.

He said: "Based on the information we have, but also because of recent events for example in the Netherlands, we can very much assume at the moment that our suspicion will be confirmed".

Russia's foreign ministry meanwhile said it was calling in the Austrian ambassador to discuss the issue.

The public prosecutor's office in Salzburg province confirmed the colonel was being investigated for the crime of revealing state secrets.

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

"We can't say for the moment whether this is an isolated incident or not", Kunasek said.

"Profiles of certain people were also created and passed on", Kunasek said.

Austria's relationship with Russian Federation has come under particular scrutiny since the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) entered government in coalition last December.

Russian Federation had in turn summoned the Austrian ambassador, reports said.

"According to our information this activity may have begun in the 1990s and continued until the year 2018", Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters.

Austria was in the minority of European Union countries that did not expel any Russian diplomats over the poisoning of the Skripals in March and the chancellor has met twice with the Russian president since the attack.

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on August 9, 2006.

A European intelligence agency is understood to have tipped off Vienna about the suspected mole.

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