Austria expels Russian diplomat, Moscow hits back in kind

Austrian tabloid says expelled diplomat had spied for years with the help of a citizen at a high-tech firm.

the Russian embassy in Vienna
The Russian Embassy in Vienna slammed the expulsion order [File: Ronald Zak/AP]

Austria has taken steps to expel a Russian diplomat following a report accusing the envoy of being involved in economic espionage.

“His behaviour is not in accordance with the Vienna Convention,” an Austian ministry spokesman said on Monday, citing the treaty governing diplomats’ privileges and immunities.

No other information was given.

According to the Austrian Kronen Zeitung newspaper, the diplomat’s covert activities came to light after an Austrian who works in a technology company confessed that he had carried out espionage for years on behalf of the Russian, who was his intelligence handler.

Media reports said the diplomat had been given until September 1 to leave the country.

The Russian Embassy responded on Twitter by saying: “We are outraged by the unfounded decision of the Austrian authorities, which is damaging to constructive relations.”

Later on Monday, Russia reacted by expelling an unnamed diplomat from the Austrian embassy in Moscow.

Russia denounced Austria’s expulsion of the Russian diplomat as an “unfounded decision”, a statement by Russia’s foreign ministry said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had said earlier that Russia would respond based on a “traditional tit-for-tat principle,” according to comments carried by state media.

Previous case

Vienna’s diplomatic move comes two months after a retired Austrian army colonel was sentenced to three years in prison for having spied for Russia in a separate case.

Unlike other Western countries, Austria has traditionally sought close relations with Russia, which supplies significant amounts of natural gas to Western Europe via a pipeline hub near Vienna.

A large number of Russian diplomats are stationed in the Austrian capital to represent their country at UN organisations and at the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe.

Source: News Agencies