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Vienna has become 'Russia's new espionage hub,' intelligence officials tell WSJ

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk June 28, 2024 5:24 PM 2 min read
Austrian police stand guard in front of the Russian Embassy on July 7, 2020, in Vienna, Austria (Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images)
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Vienna has become the "base for Russian clandestine operations," the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on June 28, citing unnamed European and U.S. intelligence officials.

While Vienna has a long history of being a hub for spies dating back to the Cold War, there have been a number of recent espionage scandals in the country, such as the arrest in April of former Austrian intelligence officer Egisto Ott on suspicion of espionage.

The month before, Austria expelled two Russian diplomats over actions "incompatible with their diplomatic status."

Austrian intelligence officials told the WSJ that the number of Russian diplomats in Vienna has almost doubled since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, increasing from around 300-400 to over 500. Around half of them "operate as spies," the officials said.

Russian operatives based in Austria have been suspected of involvement in high-profile intelligence operations, such as the assassination of Maksim Kuzminov, a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine and was later shot dead in Spain in February 2024.

Intelligence officials told the WSJ that the alleged assassins "were criminals paid with cash provided by Russian state employees from Vienna."

"We are now becoming a liability for our neighbors because Russia is using us as an operational base," an Austrian intelligence official said.

Chancellor: Moscow used spy in attempt to undermine democracy in Austria
Moscow attempted to undermine the democratic political process in Austria using a Russian spy and a political party he was associated with, the country’s Chancellor said on April 18.

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