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November 18, 2018 No.
7767

Russia In The World – Russia-Austria Relations – Russia's Reactions To Austria Spy Case

On November 9, the Austrian government announced that it had launched an investigation into a 70-year-old retired colonel suspected of working for Russian intelligence since the 1990s. He is accused of providing Russia with information about Austria's air force and artillery, and about its migrant crisis.

Crimerussia.org reported: "Two weeks [prior to the Austrian government announcement], the suspect's office and two home addresses were searched... An account into which he allegedly received money for intelligence gathering was found... [and it was found that he had] received about €300,000 from the Russian authorities for collecting data."[1]

Nevertheless, Austria said that is not planning to expel Russian diplomats. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stated: "We have clearly expressed our reaction to Russia and informed our European partners. The issue of relations with Russia is regularly discussed throughout Europe, so Austria will not take any individual steps in this regard [expulsion of diplomats]." He added: "We are a country which maintains good ties with Russia; we place our stakes on dialogue, and things will remain the same in the future... But if we suspect that the case is about espionage, we will always criticize that and protect ourselves from it, while working to independently beef up security to ensure that this will never happen again."[2]

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, whose August 2018 wedding was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin,[3] canceled her Russia visit planned for December 2-3.

The case has greatly embarrassed the Austrian government, which enjoys good relations with the Kremlin.[4]

Below is an overview of reactions to the Austria spy case:


Putin with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Russian Expert Schweitzer: "This Is A Strong Blow To Austria"

Vladimir Schweitzer, political expert at the department of social-political research at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, stated: "First of all this is a strong blow to Austria, which holds a very right, reserved and mediating position on a number of issues, trying to make some point of view closer to each other between us and the Americans. Austria also tries to establish a basis for a dialogue. Yet, at the moment the authorities have to take into a consideration the public opinion and have to make some statements."

(Kommersant.ru, November 10, 2018)

MP Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, stated: "You should not view the cancellation of the Austrian FM's visit as a sign of worsening [Austria-Russia] relations – at least [not] for now. I've known Mrs. Kneissl for a long time, she's a highly qualified professional. She's currently under unprecedented pressure, especially because Austria has been chairing the presidency of the Council of the European Union, since July." He added that the visit had not been cancelled, but rather "rescheduled and postponed."

(Ria.ru, November 9, 2018)

Russian Expert Kortunov: Austrian Chancellor, Foreign Minister Want To Show They're "Not Moscow's Marionettes"

Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), stated: "This is also a question of internal political struggle in Austria. Obviously, the chancellor and the minister of foreign affairs, whose wedding Putin has privately attended, want to demonstrate that they intend to defend Austrian interests and that they are not Moscow's marionettes."

(Kommersant.ru, November 9, 2018)

Kortunov further stated, in the Russian Council of Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP): "It is quite clear who benefits from the scandal, why it broke out and why at this moment. Under different circumstances, this would have been a routine story and nobody would have paid much attention, since it is a general practice that every state spies on any other state. The US spied on Angela Merkel, and that did not significantly affect American-German relations. The current situation is unpleasant, given the general spy-mania and paranoia in Europe. The Austrian leadership is reacting nervously in order to divert any suspicion regarding its alleged pro-Russian position and demonstrate that first of all it is defending national interests…"

(T.me/svop_ru)

Russian Expert Lukyanov: A Third Country Wanted to Ruin Russia-Austria Relations

Russian expert Fyodor Lukyanov stated: "I think our 'good friends' from some third countries have put their hands on this scandal... To find the source of this scandal, it is necessary to look much farther West than Austria... Many in the U.S. and in Europe are irritated by Austrian neutrality during the ongoing global anti-Russian sanctioning campaign. Austria has also refrained from expelling Russian diplomats and from applying economical restrictions following the Skripal case. With this 'revelation,' they have reminded Austria of a 'reality': The Austrian leadership is currently in an awkward situation – it cannot but respond."

(Argumenti.ru, November 9, 2018)

MP Yuri Shvytkin, deputy chair of the Duma Defense Committee, also wondered why the information had been kept private and was only now being made public. He said: "[This information] appeared exactly at the moment when there is a surge of tensions towards our country from our Western enemies, against the backdrop of constructive relations between Russia and Austria."

(Iz.ru, November 9, 2018)

MP Lugovoi: "All States Conduct Intelligence Activity"

MP Andrey Lugovoi, one of the suspects in the poisoning of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, stated: "The Austrians understand full well – as do we all – that all states conduct intelligence activity. It's done if there is an opportunity, just by definition. Had the Austrians had an opportunity to recruit someone in Russia, they would definitely do it, regardless of any existing relations."

(Gazeta.ru, November 9, 2018)

Russia in Global Affairs journal posted on its Telegram channel: "It had to be expected. It is not a secret that espionage activities are carried out by all the countries. By the way, just six months ago, there was an espionage scandal between Austria and Germany's BND (German Federal Intelligence Service). The scandal was eventually silenced. In this case, it was very likely to happen. It's also not news that Austria's special stance on Russia bothers many people. And these people are working hard against it."

(T.me/ru_global)

Gazeta.ru: "In This Case, The Intelligence Service Has Directly Damaged The Political Interests Of Our Country"

"There are four EU countries which could have been considered relatively 'pro-Russian' – Austria, Greece, Italy and Hungary. Austria, Italy and to some extent Greece could have been considered to be able to lead to gradual softening of anti-Russian sanctions. Hungary – because of its geographic scale, economic development and prime-minister Orban's reputation – does not have real weight in European politics.

"Yet, in less than in half a year, Russia 'succeeded' in worsening its relations with Greece (official reason – Russian political meddling and probably intelligence services into Greek church's matters), and now Moscow could achieve the same result in Austria.

"Until recently, Austria was considered almost the main lobbyist for Russia's interests in the EU framework. Chancellor Kurz has visited Moscow, while Putin's attendance at Austrian Foreign Minister Kneissl's wedding was definitely unprecedented in Russia's relation with any other EU country. Of course, it was a private visit, yet the atmosphere of warmth – the dances, the Kuban Cossack Chorus, the flowers and the toasts – demonstrated the personal trust between the two states' politicians.

"It's very hard to forgive a breach of such a trust. And in the case of Russia, you can be sure that neither the European nor American partners of Austria will allow the scandal to be forgotten.

"Currently our relations are hindered by inconsistency in internal Russian authorities' actions. Of course, the mere essence of intelligence is to provide security to the state. Yet the Austrian military is hardly posing any threat to our security, [and] revealing Austrian military secrets makes none stronger. And there is almost no doubt that Austria has detained a Russian spy. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has commented comfortably on the issue with 'no comment,' which is an indirect acknowledgement of the Austrian claims...

"Practically speaking, Austria is our main ally in Europe. Likely the SVR operatives have their own Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and try to accomplish it by all means, without considering any ramifications. The fact is that in this case the intelligence service has directly damaged the political interests of our country. The ramifications exceed any usefulness – which is questionable by itself – of the information provided by the former Austrian colonel.

"At the moment, the Austrian government will face far more hardships in explaining their European partners that Russia can be trusted and that the benefits of economic cooperation with Moscow exceed 'the Russian threat.'

"We invest a huge amount of effort (political as well as financial) in order to recruit political partners in the EU. Yet a former colonel recruited in Soviet times may ruin the efforts of the governments of both countries' governments."

(Gazeta.ru, November 9, 2018)

 

[1] Crimerussia.com, November 11, 2018.

[2] Tass.com, November 14, 2018.