- The Russian government has yet to publicly acknowledge this incident.
- Although Austria is not a NATO member, they have a robust strategic military budget, and they share a physical border between Russia and NATO.
- Vienna was chosen in 2010 as a neutral ground for a spy swap, including the now infamous Sergei Skripal, who was residing in the UK and was poisoned.
This week, the government of Austria announced an arrest warrant has been issued for Igor Egorovich Zaytsev. Zaytsev was a GRU officer and an alleged handler of an Austrian Colonel. The recruitment allegedly had taken place 30 years ago. Zaytsev is currently 65 years old and the yet unnamed Austrian Colonel is in his 70s. The allegations against Zaytsev and his source are pertaining to payments being provided in exchange for sensitive information about Austrian military and weapons systems. Zaytsev’s military rank has yet to be disclosed, but given his 30 years of service, it could be opined that he would at least be a Colonel, and possibly a General.
Given the decades of espionage that occurred in this case, it is entirely possible there are other spies within the Austrian military, and the damage is catastrophic.
The Russian government has yet to publicly acknowledge this incident. Austria is not a NATO member. There are five countries which declared their non-alignment with NATO, including Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Malta. Hence, the information the Colonel provided wouldn’t have contained any classified documentation within the Alliance, troops movement etc.
Although Austria is not a NATO member, they have a robust strategic military budget, and they share a physical border between Russia and NATO. The Austrian military budget continued to decrease from 0.99% of the GDP to 0.55% over the past 5 years. Comparable-sized nations all spend 2 billion Euros more.
Prior to the end of Cold War, the Austrian military consisted of the Bereitschaftstruppe (alert force of active duty), Mobile Landwehr (reserve infantry), Raumgebundene Landwehr (reserve infantry for territorial defense). The divisional headquarters were at Baden, close to Vienna. Furthermore, Vienna was chosen in 2010 as a neutral ground for a spy swap, including the now infamous Sergei Skripal, who was residing in the UK and was poisoned.
Moreover, Austria does not have the latest military technologies that would be of interest to Russia.
After analysis, it’s more likely the information provided to Zaytsev would have been related to the former Eastern Block and NATO involvement. Since Austria signed the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in the 1995 and worked along side allies in the former Yugoslavia, it would be more of interest for Russia to gain intelligence on troops movements, different operations in the zones, and training plans– particularly in the Balkan region.
Russia has its own interests and geopolitical ambitions. Austrian scientists have participated in advance research projects with NATO countries. The spying could have been technology intelligence gathering. Given the information released in the media by Austria, it appears the payments were in the hundreds of thousands of Euros. The breach likely impacted NATO, not just Austria.
Given the rank of a Colonel and the unnamed individual working in the central control center, he would have been privy to such information as strategic planning, etc. There also had to have been multiple other parties involved in this spy network. It seems to have had a much wider reach and implications. So far, the Austrian government has only provided a minimized version of the situation.