Reports that European intelligence services have distanced themselves from Vienna have emerged amid fear that sensitive information might be shared with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom the Austrian administration has cultivated links.
A photograph of Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl and Putin dancing at her wedding last weekend has further fueled speculation.
Kneissl, who was nominated to the post by the Freedom Party (FPOe), raised eyebrows by inviting Putin to her wedding. Both sides have insisted it was a private event.
The FPOe has also held the top posts in the Austrian ministries of the interior and defense ministries since forming a coalition government with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’ People’s Party (OeVP) late last year.
Putin’s visit came amid reports of other Western countries becoming warier of intelligence cooperation with Austria due to suspicions that the FPOe and Austrian Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl are trying to exert influence on intelligence agencies.
Unnamed intelligence officials told the Washington Post that police raids on the BVT domestic intelligence agency in February caused particular concern.
The FPOe has had a “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party since 2016.
Austria’s Die Presse daily on Thursday quoted an unnamed BVT source as saying that there was a fear that information shared with Austria would land straight on Putin’s table the next day.
BVT director Peter Gridling said in a statement earlier this week that cooperation with Austria’s allies continued to “be as good as ever in important areas, such as the fight against terror.”
Austria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is officially neutral and is not part of NATO.
It hosts numerous international organizations, including from the UN, OPEC and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and in the Cold War played an intermediary role between the East and the West.
In March, it set itself apart from a number of other EU countries in not expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, citing its neutrality and that it wanted to “keep the channels of communication with Russia open.”
Britain has accused Russia of being behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, an accusation Moscow has denied.
Austria’s opposition on Wednesday called for a meeting of the national security council within two weeks to discuss the concern that information might no longer be shared by allies with Austria.
Jan Krainer, a parliamentarian for the opposition Social Democrats, accused the government of compromising Austrians’ security.
“The Austrian secret service isn’t seen as reliable partner any more,” Krainer said.
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