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Austrian colonel suspected of spying for Russian Federation for decades, Vienna says

Austrian colonel suspected of spying for Russian Federation for decades, Vienna says

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday that a retired colonel in the Austrian army is suspected of having spied for Russian Federation for several decades.

The relationship between the nations hit headlines in August when foreign minister Karin Kneissl danced with Mr Putin at her wedding.

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".

Kunasek said that under questioning, the colonel said the Russians had been interested "in weapons systems, in the migration situation here in Austria in recent years".

Diplomatic relations between Russia and the European Union seem set to take another downward turn after the Austrian government revealed the existence of a Russian spy in the senior ranks of the Austrian military.

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 that Austria was "demanding transparent information from the Russian side" and that it would consult its European partners on further steps.

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

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The case has been referred to prosecutors and the former colonel has been questioned.

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

According to Austrian press reports, the colonel was paid 300,000 euros ($340,000) for his services.

The country was one of the few European Union member states that did not kick out Russian diplomats following the Novickok poisoning in the United Kingdom of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

"If this suspicion is confirmed, it would be a serious burden on bilateral relations between Austria and..."

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said she canceled her visit to Russian Federation scheduled for December 2-3 due to the espionage case.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for his part, said that he was "unpleasantly surprised" by the news that an Austrian ex-colonel had been accused by Vienna of spying for Russia.

Earlier this week the Austrian Falter weekly published what it said was a document from the Finnish domestic intelligence agency in which it asked for information from partner countries but specifically excluded Vienna's BVT agency.


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