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Austria accuses colonel of spying for Russia for decades

AFP  |  Vienna 

has a launched a probe into a suspected of spying for for several decades, said Friday, the latest in a string of cases where has been accused of espionage in EU states.

Kurz told a press conference that the 70-year-old army official, now retired, is suspected to have begun working with in the 1990s and carried on until 2018.

The public prosecutor's office in province confirmed the was being investigated for the crime of revealing state secrets.

has summoned the Russian charge d'affaires over the matter and cancelled an upcoming trip to

Russia's foreign ministry meanwhile said it was calling in the Austrian to discuss the issue.

"Of course if such cases are confirmed, whether it be in the or in Austria, it can't improve the relationship between the EU and Russia," Kurz told reporters in

He was referring to the expulsion of four Russian agents by the in April for allegedly planning a cyber-attack on the world's in

"Russian spying in is unacceptable and to be condemned," the added.

He said that was "demanding transparent information from the Russian side" and that it would consult its European partners on further steps. Russian said he had been "unpleasantly surprised" by the from

"Recently our Western partners have made it a rule not to use traditional diplomacy, but instead so-called 'megaphone diplomacy' by publicly accusing us and for explanations about matters we know nothing about," he told a press conference.

"We will call (the Austrian ambassador's) attention to the methods that must be used if you have questions to put to Russia," Lavrov added.

Austrian said the case came to light "a few weeks ago" as a result of information from another European intelligence agency.

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

He said that the had handed over "technical equipment" including his laptop which was now being examined.

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

"Profiles of certain people were also created and passed on," Kunasek said.

The case indicated that "even after the end of the Cold War, spying has continued and shows us the need to tighten our security network, within Austria and within the defence ministry," Kunasek said.

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

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

As such it was one of the few European countries not to expel Russian diplomats following the poisoning of ex-and his daughter in Britain in March.

Austria's relationship with has come under particular scrutiny since the far-right entered government in coalition last December.

The FPOe -- which nominated Kneissl and of which Kunasek is also a member -- has had a "cooperation pact" with Russian Vladimir Putin's since 2016.

In August, Kneissl caused controversy by inviting Putin as a guest of honour to her wedding.

In addition, the admitted in September that Austria had been asked to take "trust-building measures" to retain cooperation with allied

It followed reports that Western were increasingly wary of sharing information with Austria over concerns it could be passed to

Earlier this week 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 agency.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, November 09 2018. 16:36 IST