Austria expels two Russian diplomats for actions 'incompatible with status'

VIENNA (Reuters) -Austria has declared two diplomats from the Russian embassy personae non grata for actions "incompatible with their diplomatic status," ordering them to leave the country within a week, Austria's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

The move brings to 11 the number of Russian diplomats Austria has expelled since 2020 in four separate rounds. It is not clear whether the expulsions are connected.

Officials have said that some previous expulsions involved spying, but as before the ministry gave no specifics.

"Two diplomats from the Russian embassy have acted in a manner that is incompatible with their diplomatic status," the foreign ministry said in a statement, using its standard phrasing for such cases. They must leave the country by the end of Tuesday, it added.

Before Austria even announced the move, Russia already said it would retaliate. Its foreign ministry called the decision "groundless," according to state news agency RIA.

Russian news agencies, quoting a statement issued by the Russian embassy in Vienna, expressed "outrage" at the expulsions.

"As in previous episodes of expulsions, this time we have not been presented with the slightest evidence, let alone proof of any violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," the agencies quoted the statement as saying.

"This is a purely political decision by the Austria authorities which we categorically reject. There can be no doubt of Moscow's resolute response," the statement said, according to the agencies.

After previous expulsions from Austria, Moscow has responded by expelling diplomats from the Austrian Embassy in Moscow, which has only a small fraction of the number of diplomats that Russia has stationed in Austria.

Vienna is a major diplomatic centre hosting the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and United Nations organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Larger countries like Russia and the United States often have separate ambassadors to Austria, the OSCE and the U.N. organisations, each running an embassy or permanent mission.

Vienna, which was divided into Allied sectors after World War Two, has long had a reputation as a den of spies. The large diplomatic presence offers the opportunity to station intelligence agents there under a diplomatic cover granting them diplomatic immunity.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Leslie Adler, Ron Popeski and Mark Porter)