Italy expelled two Russian diplomats on charges of espionage on Wednesday after investigators said they observed an Italian navy official providing confidential documents to a special envoy in exchange for money.
The Italian National Military Police Carabinineri said in a statement that the Italian official assigned to the Ministry of Defense in charge of national security and diplomatic relations handed over classified documents to a Russian envoy in the Roman parking lot on Tuesday night. Investigators said that the Italian intelligence service attracted the attention of officials, prompting them to be monitored.
Investigators said the Italian official named Captain Walter Biot received 5,000 euros (approximately US$5,800) and handed over images of classified documents to a USB memory stick. Mr. Biot is 56 years old and is a fighter jet expert. He used to work in the Press Office of the Ministry of Defense.
The police said they also retrieved secret NATO documents, believed to have been handed over to the Russians during a previous meeting with Biot. The name of the Russian envoy has not been identified, and the role of the second diplomat is currently unclear.
Neither Italian nor Russian officials indicated that their response to the incident would be escalated.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told the Senator on Wednesday: “We will continue to act in accordance with our geopolitical stance and values.” Russia and China maintain a critical and constructive dialogue.”
The Russian Embassy in Rome said in a statement that it considers this move “inappropriate” but hopes that the case “will not affect the bilateral relations between Russia and Italy.”
In Russia, the official response is also very low-key, which shows that the Kremlin has no intention of retaliating against the incident.
According to Interfax news agency, the Russian parliament member Leonid Slutsky (Leonid Slutsky), chairman of the parliament’s international affairs committee, said that Russia will retaliate. But the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters on a conference call that despite this incident, Russia still hopes to maintain good relations with Italy.
Andrew E. Kramer provided the report from Moscow.