Italy expelled two Russian officials after an Italian navy captain was arrested for allegedly passing confidential documents to one of the Russians.
Police said they intervened “during a clandestine meeting” between the Italian and Russian military officer and “immediately after the transfer of a document by the Italian officer in exchange for a sum of money.”
The two people involved are charged with serious crimes related to espionage and state security, police said. “The Italian official was taken into custody, while the position of the foreigner is still being considered in relation to his diplomatic status.”
The Italian Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador, Sergey Razov, on Wednesday morning to discuss the matter. Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister, later wrote on Facebook that two Russian diplomatic officials “involved in this very serious matter” had been expelled. They were reportedly the meeting officer and his superior.
The Russian embassy confirmed the arrest of a member of its military attaché, but declined to comment further. “The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation,” he said. “For now, we consider it inappropriate to comment on what happened. However, we hope that what happened does not affect the bilateral relations between Russia and Italy ”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said: “We regret the expulsion from Rome of two employees of the Russian embassy. We are investigating the circumstances of the decision. We will make a new announcement about our possible next steps in relation to this measure, which does not correspond to the level of bilateral relations ”.
The Tuesday night meeting reportedly took place in the parking lot of a shopping center in Rome, during which the naval officer allegedly received 5,000 euros in cash in exchange for documents allegedly coming from a unit of the Ministry of Defense. Defense of Italy. Police confiscated the money immediately after it was exchanged.
According to the Corriere della Sera, the naval officer sold “top-secret” NATO files, as well as sensitive Italian military files to the Russian officer. The Ansa news agency claimed that documents containing information on military telecommunications were released.
Suspicions of espionage first emerged a few months ago after Aisi, Italy’s internal security and intelligence agency, pointed to a relationship between the navy captain and the Russian official. His movements were followed and when sufficient evidence was gathered, the police intervened.
It is not the first case of alleged espionage involving Italy and Russia, although past activity has involved the industrial sector, Corriere reported. This is the first time a case involving defense and security information has come to light.
Politicians from the opposition Italian Brothers party called on Prime Minister Mario Draghi to address the issue in parliament immediately.
La Repubblica said it was the most serious incident with Russia since the end of the cold war, recalling a precedent from 1989 when Russian and Bulgarian spies were discovered in Italy.
The affair comes against the backdrop of intense tensions between Moscow and the West, most recently over the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a move that triggered EU sanctions against senior Russian officials.
Bulgaria, an EU and NATO member like Italy, expelled two Russian diplomats last week after six people were arrested in the country, including several Defense Ministry officials, on suspicion of spying for Russia.
Also last week, the Kremlin issued a statement in which Vladimir Putin lamented “the unsatisfactory state of ties between Russia and the EU”, blaming the “unconstructive, often confrontational policies of our partners.”
Relations between Moscow and Washington sank to a new low this month after Joe Biden called Putin a “murderer”, prompting Putin to say: “It takes one to know one.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism