Italy on Wednesday announced the expulsion of two Russian diplomats involved in an espionage case after the spectacular arrest on the eve of an Italian navy officer as he handed confidential documents to the Russian military in exchange for money.
The case comes at a delicate time for relations between Russia and Europe, strained due to the arrest of opponent Alexei Navalny, allegations of human rights violations, and other cases of espionage.
The Italian officer, a frigate captain, was arrested in flagrante delicto for espionage in favor of Russia when he handed confidential documents to Russian military in exchange for a sum.
The operation took place under the supervision of the Italian Intelligence Service and the Defense Staff, after a lengthy investigation.
“The intervention took place during a clandestine meeting between the two men, who were surprised to exchange confidential documents for a sum of money,” the police said in a statement.
According to the police, the value was 5,000 euros ($ 5,800). Among the documents were NATO archives (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
The Russian citizen was identified as a military man at the Moscow embassy in Rome and was not detained for his status as a diplomat.
“We summoned the Russian ambassador to Italy and communicated the Italian government’s firm protest. We notified the immediate expulsion of two Russian officials involved in this serious matter,” wrote Italian Chancellor Luigi Di Maio on Facebook.
Italian authorities did not say whether the Russian military responsible for receiving the documents was among those expelled.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the Russian presidency “has no information about the causes and circumstances” of the case.
“We hope that the positive and constructive character of our relationships will remain and be preserved,” he said.
Italian news agency AGI, which quoted court sources, said the action took place in a parking lot in the Italian capital.
“In any case, we hope that what happened will have no consequences on bilateral relations between Russia and Italy,” says a statement released by the Russian embassy.
The UK government, which has shaky relations with Russia, has expressed support for Italy in the face of “Moscow’s destabilizing and malign activity … planned to undermine our NATO ally”.
Source: with Agencies