According to insiders, Austria plays an important role in the covert activities of Russian intelligence services.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s espionage activities in Western countries have come even more into focus. According to several insiders, covert operations by the Kremlin have increased to such an extent in recent weeks that Western intelligence agencies can hardly keep up with countermeasures.
Just the “tip of the iceberg”
“What we know is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg,”
Keir Giles, senior adviser at the Russia program at British think tank Chatham House told the Financial Times. “For many years there has been a conspiracy of silence, with Western powers reluctant to talk about or pursue Russian activity.”
That has now changed: Just recently, the three Baltic states and Bulgaria expelled 20 suspected Russian agents. In Poland, 45 diplomats were declared personae non gratae because they were suspected of engaging in intelligence activities under the guise of their diplomatic status.
Serious accusations against the Ministry of Defence
While only a low single-digit number of Kremlin agents are said to be active in the United Kingdom, for example, other countries are more concerned. According to the assessment of a European intelligence officer, dozens of Russian spies are said to still be active in Germany, France and Belgium.
And in this country?
Austria is a “veritable aircraft carrier” of covert Russian activity, another intelligence insider reports. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT) is considered so infiltrated that the agency was excluded for a time from sharing information with European intelligence agencies, says a Viennese diplomat. The Defense Ministry is “practically a department of the GRU,” he said.
The GRU is Russia’s military intelligence agency.
BVT only recently reformed
The Federal Chancellery does not want to comment on anonymous accusations, but points to comprehensive reforms of the current government in the security apparatus. In fact, the BVT was dissolved on December 1, 2021, and transferred to the newly created Directorate for State Protection and Intelligence (DSN).
Nevertheless, espionage cases from the past cannot be dismissed out of hand. In 2018, for example, a former army colonel was revealed to have passed on state and military secrets to Russia for 25 years. In 2020, the then 71-year-old was sentenced to three years in prison.