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Espionage in Vienna. The honeymoon between Russians and Austrians ends badly

(B2) The revelation by the Austrian Chancellor himself of the existence of a mole within the Bundesheer (the Austrian army) does it sound like a political turning point in a country known for being 'flexible' towards Russia

(credit: Bundesheer)

A Viennese waltz that ends badly

Some time ago, between Vienna and Moscow, we were surrounded by the sounds of the waltz and the gentle slides of the violins. Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl invited Vladimir Putin to her wedding with two or three dance moves last August. Very recently, at the end of October, Interior Minister H. Kickl (FPÖ) traveled to Moscow to sign a police cooperation agreement with exchanges of information. The honeymoon seems to have broken up. During a press briefing held this Friday (November 9), Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) and his Defense Minister, Mario Kunasek (FPÖ), together revealed a spy affair that could fuel the subject of a future film.

A retired colonel who has been a spy since his early days

A colonel in the federal army, resident in Salzburg, retired for 5 years, is said to have spied on Austria on behalf of Russia for almost thirty years. He would have started his work as a double agent “ In the 1990's ". And this would have lasted until recently. in 2018. revealed Sebastian Kurz. " This will not improve relations with Russia " he added.

Extremely professional

According to the daily Krone Zeitung, the individual would have received 300.000 euros over the entire period. It was " extremely professional. He had an extremely low-key job in an army command post ". Every two weeks, he contacted a certain 'Yuri', his Russian handling officer. It received commands through a global receiver, wrote encrypted messages, or transmitted the information directly via satellite communication.

Facts discovered a few weeks ago

Defense Minister Mario Kunasek explained that the information “ was known a few weeks ago ". The Ministry of Defense has initiated discussions » with the suspected individual. “ Various devices, including a laptop, were seized and are being evaluated he said, adding that the facts had been transmitted to the public prosecutor. " Even after the end of the Cold War, there is still espionage acknowledged Kunasek.

Austrian anger and major cleaning in perspective?

The Austrian Chancellor displays his anger: “ Spying is unacceptable » in general. “And Russian espionage in Europe is also unacceptable and condemnable ". The affair has been buzzing in government circles since yesterday evening (Thursday November 8) and has spread like wildfire in Viennese living rooms. The government quickly took stock of the event. Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl summoned the Russian charge d'affaires on Friday morning. She also canceled her visit, planned to Moscow on December 2 and 3, as a sign of dissatisfaction. As for the Minister of Defense, Mario Kunasek, he announced a major cleaning at the ministry, indicating that he wanted “ further tighten the safety net in Austria as in the Federal Ministry of Defense », particularly on personnel and cyberspaces. It was time ! Austria, which is home to a number of international institutions, including the IAEA, was considered by many services in Europe as a little too 'permissive' in relation to certain attempts at entryism.

Vienna, Europe's weak point?

This very official revelation by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, one from the popular ÖVP party and the other from the far-right FPÖ party, is therefore not a simple incident. It could constitute a political turning point.

One mole or many moles?

The major audit announced by the minister is not trivial. The Salzburg colonel might not be the only mole infiltrating the Austrian forces. For several months, and partly since the arrival of the FPÖ to power and the searches carried out at the BVT (the service for the protection of the Constitution and the fight against terrorism), Austria had acquired the status of 'plague victim' with most European intelligence services who were reluctant to share information, particularly on Russia.

Ending 'Except Vienna'

The 'services' of several European countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom) avoided copying their sensitive research to Austria. A distrust confirmed to B2 by certain experts on the file. Even the Finnish National Security (SUPO) would have decided to exclude its Austrian counterpart (the BVT) from its requests for assistance to various European intelligence services when they concern a Russian diplomat, the magazine has just revealed Moth, publishing a facsimile of a document mentioning “ Except Vienna ».

The issue of Russian sanctions

This case is not isolated. It comes just after the Dutch revelations of espionage around the OPCW in the Netherlands and in Switzerland. Austria, which had a 'soft' position on Russian sanctions, could thus change its position. This 'sudden' revelation could therefore initiate a more important political turning point, all the more observed as Vienna now holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, particularly in its 'Justice' and 'Home Affairs' formats.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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