High Turnover of Russian Embassy Staff in Austria

PeopleOther ♦ Published: May 13, 2024; 10:43 ♦ (Vindobona)

The Austrian authorities are at the center of a sensitive security debate as diplomatic relations with Russia are strained by high staff turnover and serious allegations of espionage. Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg addresses these issues in light of new parliamentary questions.

The number of employees accredited to Russian diplomatic missions in Austria has decreased since the beginning of 2022. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / C.Stadler/Bwag / CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Diplomatic relations between Austria and Russia are becoming increasingly strained, according to a recent parliamentary question answered by Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, as reported by ORF. The question from NEOS security spokesperson Stephanie Krisper revealed details of the staffing situation at Russian representations in Austria. Since the beginning of 2022, the number of accredited employees has fallen from 288 to 258, with a remarkably high fluctuation since the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. A total of 110 people have been deregistered, while 80 new members of staff have been reported.

Security concerns and accusations of espionage

The high turnover raises security concerns, especially in light of espionage allegations. Schallenberg emphasized the ongoing cooperation between his department the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) and the Directorate for State Security and Intelligence (DSN). This cooperation aims to uncover and prevent any activities that contravene the Vienna Convention on the Law of Diplomacy. The Foreign Minister recalled that a total of eleven Russian diplomats have been expelled since 2020 and emphasized the importance of exchanging data on the personnel of Russian missions in the EU and Schengen area.

No new investigations despite the tense situation

Despite the tense situation, no new investigations into espionage activities were initiated in the period between May 2023 and March 2024, as Justice Minister Alma Zadić (Greens) reported. An amendment to the Criminal Code is being examined to make foreign espionage activities punishable even if they are directed against international organizations or other states. The Minister emphasized the importance of interdepartmental exchange to tighten up the legal situation.

Calls for stricter laws and more resources

Stephanie Krisper, the politician responsible for the parliamentary inquiries, is pushing for laws to be tightened up quickly and effectively to improve the fight against espionage. She criticized the government's current inaction as dangerous and called for more resources for state security to facilitate the expulsion of suspicious Russian diplomats and thus reduce espionage activities.

The situation highlights the complex dynamic between security needs and diplomatic relations. While the Austrian government is taking measures to preserve the integrity of its international relations, the challenge remains to respond appropriately to allegations of espionage while keeping diplomatic channels open. The government is facing increasing pressure to not only develop plans but to take concrete steps to strengthen national security.