Russian-Austrian 'spy' row hots up

The Russian citizen detained in Austria on suspicion of spying may be freed before Friday. That's according to the Russian embassy in Vienna, which earlier refused to strip the man of his diplomatic immunity.

The 51-year-old man, who still has not been named, works for the Russian Federal Space Agency Roskosmos, and was in Austria for a session of the UN space committee. He was detained in the town of Gmunden near Salzburg on June 11.

Ever since this story broke, Moscow has been saying that Austria's actions are unacceptable and have demanded the man be released. It's also been said that the arrest of the man breaches a 1946 international convention, according to which officials who are part of delegations representing their countries at various UN gatherings have immunity from personal arrest and detention.

“On June 20, in connection with the protest made by the Russian Embassy to Austria against the detention of the Russian citizen, the Austrian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the member of the official Russian delegation to the UN space committee session has diplomatic immunity. The man has the immunity in accordance with the 1946 Convention on privileges and immunities. The Austrian Foreign Ministry referred to the article 14 of the convention which supports the voluntary rejection of diplomatic immunity in the interests of justice and urged Russia to strip the man of the status,”  Tatyana Kupalova, the spokesperson for the Russian Embassy to Austria, explained.

“In response, the Russian embassy has said that such a rejection is out of question, as the Austrian side failed to provide any evidence in support of the accusations against him. The embassy believes that all the actions of the Austrian authorities in this case, from the very beginning, have been groundless and illegal,” she concluded.

Speaking on a trip to Iran, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insisted the Russian citizen should be released immediately.

Austrian Ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry where he was told that Moscow sees the accusations against the man as groundless. Moreover, Russia's Foreign Ministry officials have said that Austria's actions are harmful for bilateral relations.According to the ministry's representatives, no official request from their Austrian colleagues has been received.
The police also arrested an Austrian air force officer for reportedly passing on secret information.

Both men are said to have been under surveillance for some time.