Austria expelling four Russian diplomats

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By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) -Austria is expelling four Russian diplomats for behaviour incompatible with their diplomatic status, a spokeswoman for its foreign minister said on Thursday, joining a group of European Union countries that have taken similar action this week.

Unlike those other EU countries, which include France, Italy and Germany, the spokeswoman for Alexander Schallenberg did not say the move was because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The three diplomats working at Russia's embassy and one based in Salzburg must leave Austria by Tuesday, she said.

"The (four) people have acted in a way that is inconsistent with their diplomatic status," the spokeswoman said in a short statement without elaborating. That phrase is usually used to refer to spying.

Sweden, Denmark, Greece and Romania are also among the EU countries that have announced this week they are expelling Russian diplomats over the war in Ukraine.

The coordinated moves came shortly after images of what appeared to be civilian bodies strewn in the streets of the Ukrainian town of Bucha caused international outrage.

While some EU countries have expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, Austria is declaring "personae non gratae" only a tiny fraction of the Russian diplomats based on its soil.

Austria hosts an unusually large contingent of Russian diplomats because Vienna is home the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and to a United Nations centre that includes U.N. agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Larger countries including Russia therefore have three ambassadors in Vienna - one to Austria and one each to the U.N. organisations and the OSCE.

Austria's Foreign Ministry lists 65 diplomats as working at the Russian embassy. That does not include dozens of others working at the missions to the U.N. in Vienna and to the OSCE.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Holmes)