Russia slams Austria for ‘unfounded accusations’ in spy row


MOSCOW: Russia said on Saturday that Austria’s “unfounded accusations” in a spy scandal were unacceptable while Vienna expressed hope the affair would not hurt bilateral ties.

On Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his country had launched a probe into a colonel suspected of spying for Russia for several decades.

The spy row risks hurting Russia’s ties with one of its rare European allies.

It is the latest in a string of cases where Moscow has been accused of espionage in EU states and elsewhere.

Moscow said that Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl called her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to explain her country’s motives.

She “expressed hope that the steps will not affect the further development of bilateral cooperation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Lavrov for his part reiterated Moscow’s displeasure that Vienna chose to air its grievances in public.

He said the practice of voicing “unfounded accusations” publicly was unacceptable, the foreign ministry said.

“Any possible mutual concerns should be discussed through established channels of dialogue and be based on facts,” the statement said.

In August, Kneissl sparked a row in Austria and beyond after she waltzed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and bowed to him at her wedding, with critics saying her behaviour hurt the country’s image.

Austria suspects a 70-year-old army official of working with Russian intelligence for several decades and is investigating him for allegedly revealing state secrets.

Austria is not a member of NATO and sets great store by its status as a neutral country.

It was one of the few European countries not to expel Russian diplomats following the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain in March.