Austria expels four Russian diplomats under suspicion of espionage

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Austria is expelling four Russian diplomats for behaving in a manner inconsistent with international agreements, a reason often invoked in spying cases, the Austrian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday without giving specifics.

The move brings to nine the number of Russian diplomats Austria has expelled since 2020, though any connection between the three separate decisions is unclear. Austria has generally been more reluctant than many other western European countries to expel Russian envoys.

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Two of the four diplomats declared personae non gratae on Thursday and ordered to leave the country by February 8 are stationed at the Russian Embassy to Austria while the other two work at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Vienna, the ministry said in a statement.

“Two diplomats at the Russian embassy have acted in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status. They were therefore declared unwelcome persons [personae non gratae] in accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” the ministry said.

The two working at the Russian mission to the UN acted in a way that was inconsistent with the host country agreement between the United Nations and Austria, it added.

The ministry did not specify what any of the diplomats had done, and a spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Russian embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the case involved spying. One said the diplomats concerned were more senior than four expelled last April, when other European countries also expelled Russians. None of those now being expelled is an ambassador, the official added.

Austria forced out another Russian diplomat in August 2020 in what Austrian media said was a case of economic espionage.

Vienna is a major diplomatic center hosting the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and United Nations organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Larger countries like Russia and the United States often have separate ambassadors to Austria, the OSCE and the UN organizations, each running an embassy or permanent mission.

The city, which was divided into Allied sectors after World War Two, also has a reputation as a den of spies. The large diplomatic presence offers the opportunity to station intelligence agents there under a diplomatic cover granting them diplomatic immunity.

While Russia may well order a tit-for-tat expulsion of Austrian diplomats, of whom there are about a dozen in Moscow, it will barely make a dent in Russia’s presence in Austria. More than 140 Russian diplomats are listed as working there.

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