Austria has been plunged into a political crisis after the resignation of the far-right Freedom Party from the government, causing the collapse of the administration and a snap election. Swamped by allegations of corruption, the move came just minutes after Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz recommended that interior minister Herbet Kickl be dismissed.
“After yesterday’s video I honestly have to say: Enough is enough. These are shameful images, and no one should be ashamed for Austria… We need in this sense to rebuild confidence anew. This rebuilding can in this case only happen with a snap election.”Sebastian Kurz
The move to dismiss Kickl came after the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Freedom Party deputy leader Johann Gudenus over the same scandal last week, a scandal that involved the leak of a 2017 video filmed in Ibiza that showed Strache offering government contracts to a woman who claimed to be related to Russian oligarch Igor Makarov.
The video also showed Strache openly discussing ways to avoid financing laws and suggesting he would be willing to ensure that the woman would be able to take control of an Austrian tabloid newspaper in order to suppress press freedoms. Strache indicated that such practices were common amongst donors to the Freedom Party.
The footage released by Der Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung also shows Strache boasting of visiting Russia and having extensive links in the country alongside having contact with Israelis who opposed left-wing politics.
There is currently little information as to who originally recorded the clandestine meetings, for what purpose or why it has taken two years to release the footage. Igor Makarov has denied all knowledge of the woman in the video, with some speculating the work of intelligence services in the sting operation.
“I cannot in any way evaluate the appearance of this video, because it has nothing to do with the Russian Federation, the president or the government. We do not know for sure who this woman is, whether she is Russian, therefore this is a story that does not and cannot have anything to do with us.”Russian Government Statement
With Russian critics suggesting that the video had been blackmail material, the famed Russian Kompromat, Russia has denied all involvement in the affair, while the German political and cultural magazine Cicero has pointed the finger squarely at Mossad.
In an article penned by Rudolf Adam, former Vice President of the Federal Intelligence Service, Cicero speculates that the video has been released now to impact the Freedom Party prior to this week’s European Elections where the far-right is expected to make unprecedented gains across the continent. Pointing out the obvious elaborate nature of the production and deliberate timing, the magazine suggests that only a state actor could be behind the sting.
Dismissing other EU states, Russia and the CIA, Cicero points straight at the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, suggesting that Israel fears a legitimate rise in far-right antisemitism and is seeking to ensure that the EU remains pro-Israeli as a war with Iran looms.
While criticism of Israel as a state is a legitimate position, members and supporters of the Freedom Party contain legitime antisemites who regularly trivialize Nazi atrocities, up to and including Holocaust denial. Johann Gudenus himself is on record as saying victims of the Mauthausen concentration camp were “plagues” and “criminals”.
“Israel has a vested interest in the EU pursuing Israel-friendly policies. This line has been controversial among EU members. A triumph of political parties close to the FPÖ could trigger a reversal here and bring the EU as a whole to a more Israeli-critical line. This is to be seen against the increasing probability of a conflict between Israel and Iran, which is currently enjoying sympathy, especially from the EU and Russia. A split between the US and the EU over Iran would inevitably affect their relationship with Israel.”Rudolf Adam, Cicero