Austria’s foreign minister on Tuesday announced that her country will open two more diplomatic representations in Russia in a sign of improvement of relations which went sour after a spy scandal late last year.
Following a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, Karin Kneissl told a news conference that Austria was set to open a consulate general in Saint Petersburg and an honorary consulate in Novosibirsk.
Vienna’s ties with Russia strained last November when Austria revealed that one of its senior officers was believed to have spied for Moscow for decades, passing on sensitive information about the migration crisis, Austria’s military air capabilities and artillery systems to Russian intelligence services.
Russia said Moscow knew nothing about the alleged espionage activity.
Kneissl said judicial proceedings were still underway over the espionage charges against the retired Austrian colonel.
“We try to discuss and solve the problems, we prefer diplomatic dialogue and interaction,” she said.
Tuesday’s meeting also saw the signing of a civil society forum named “the Sochi dialogue”.
On Russia’s relations with the Council of Europe — Europe’s top human rights watchdog — Lavrov said Russia did not want to quit the organization.
He rejected as “provocation” rumors that Russia “has already given up on the Council of Europe and decided to leave it for good”.
”This is not true, this is a provocation. […] Russia has not taken a decision to withdraw from the Council of Europe, Russia is doing everything to find a way out of the current artificially-created crisis on the solid basis of the Charter of the Council of Europe,” he said.
The Council of Europe had suspended Russia’s voting rights and limited certain functions of the Russian delegation in the organization after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
In response, Russia refused to pay its annual membership fees after which the council warned Moscow of its possible exclusion from the organization.