Italy expels Russian officials after Italian captain 'sold secrets'

Italy expels Russian officials after Italian navy captain is ‘caught red-handed selling secrets to Moscow military officer’

  • Two Russian officials have been expelled from Italy after state secrets were sold
  • Italian navy captain and Russian officer were caught after ‘clandestine meeting’
  • The navy captain was arrested but the Russian claimed diplomatic immunity
  • Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told ambassador Sergey Razov of the expulsions

Two Russian officials have been expelled from Italy after an Italian navy captain was allegedly caught red-handed selling secret documents to a Russian military officer. 

An Italian frigate captain was arrested on spying charges after a ‘clandestine meeting’ with the Russian late on Tuesday in Rome, according to a police statement. 

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio summoned Russia’s ambassador to Rome, Sergey Razov, on Wednesday morning to lodge a formal protest and explain that two Russian officials involved in the incident would be expelled from the country.

In London, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed ‘solidarity’ with Italy and condemned ‘Russia’s malign and destabilising activity that is designed to undermine our NATO ally’. 

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio (pictured) summoned Russia’s ambassador to Rome, Sergey Razov, this morning to tell him two Russian officials were being expelled from the country because they had been involved in an incident where an Italian navy captain sold secrets to Russian military officers

After the Italian captain and Russian official concluded their meeting, special operations police swooped in and stopped both men, but only the Italian was arrested, accused on passing on ‘confidential documents’ in exchange for money. 

The Russian, an embassy official, avoided custody thanks to diplomatic immunity, police said. 

Razov was notified of ‘the immediate expulsion of the two Russian officials involved in this very serious affair’, Di Maio said.

According to La Repubblica newspaper, the navy captain worked at the office of Chief of the Defence Staff and had access ‘to a wide range of documents’ concerning both Italian defence and NATO activities.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper said the captain was paid 5,000 euros (£4,255) in cash by the Russian.   

Police said the suspected spy was discovered after long investigations led by Italy’s domestic intelligence agency AISI, with support from the Chief of the Defence Staff.

The incident has been described by La Repubblica as the ‘most serious’ incident between Italy and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

The last major incident involved Russian and Bulgarian spied being uncovered in Italy in 1989.    

Moscow is embroiled in a series of rows with the West, most recently over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a move that triggered EU sanctions against senior Russian officials.

The Russian embassy in Rome (pictured) confirmed that a member of the office of the military attache was stopped by police on Tuesday, but said it was ‘inappropriate to comment’ in detail 

But Italy is one of the countries within the European Union and NATO with the warmest relations with Russia. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian embassy in Rome confirmed that a member of the office of the military attache was stopped by police on Tuesday, but said it was ‘inappropriate to comment’ in detail.

‘In any case, we hope that what happened will not affect the bilateral relationship between Russia and Italy,’ the embassy said.

In a later statement, it expressed ‘regret’ for the expulsion of two members of its military attache office, but made no mention of possible retaliatory moves.

Russia’s ambassador to Rome, Sergey Razov (pictured), was told this morning that Italy were expelling the two Russian officials. Special operations police officers swooped in moments after secret documents exchanged hands between an Italian navy captain and Russian military official

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ‘We don’t have information about the reasons for or the circumstances of this detention.’

‘But in any case, we hope that the very positive and constructive nature of Russian-Italian relations will continue and will be preserved,’ he added.

Bulgaria, an EU and NATO member like Italy, expelled two Russian diplomats last week after six people were arrested, including several defence ministry officials, on suspicion of spying for Russia.

Also last week, the Kremlin issued a statement in which Putin bemoaned ‘the unsatisfactory state of Russia-EU ties’, which he blamed on the ‘unconstructive, often confrontational policies of our partners’.

Earlier this month, relations between Moscow and Washington sank to a new low after US President Joe Biden called the Russian president a ‘killer’, leading Putin to say: ‘It takes one to know one.’

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