In Italy, an embarrassing spy case for Moscow

Entrance to the Russian Embassy, ​​Rome, March 31, 2021. Italy expelled two Russian officials on March 31, 2021, after an Italian naval captain, Walter Biot, was caught red-handed selling secret documents to a Russian military officer. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

The Russian agent left the center of Rome with a blue hat on his head. He took the metro, line B, heading south, and he stopped in the more discreet EUR district, not far from the Parc du Lac. From there, he took the bus for a few stops, before reaching the parking lot next to a supermarket to find, in a car, the Italian commander of the frigate Walter Biot. The latter had just given him a USB key on which were classified documents, in exchange for an envelope containing the sum of 5,000 euros, when the Italian counter-espionage intervened, arresting the two men, caught in the act, in the evening of Tuesday March 30.

According to the Italian news agency Adnkronos, which was able to reconstruct the course of events, this is how the operation unfolded. In recent months, the two men have met regularly, inevitably following the same ritual; apart from this reckless repetition in the same place, nothing would be missing from the stage to appear in a novel by John Le Carré.

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The Italian officer was immediately detained in the Roman prison of Regina Cœli. As for his Russian interlocutor, he first sought to flee, before asserting his status as a member of the diplomatic corps and walling himself in silence. In the wake of the successful operation of its counterintelligence services, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced measures of unusual firmness, immediately summoning the Russian Ambassador, Sergei Razov, to the Ministry’s Farnesina , to transmit to Moscow the “Firm protest” from Italy and notify the expulsion within twenty-four hours of the arrested Russian official, as well as his hierarchical superior.

Stand firm in NATO’s eyes

For its part, the Russian embassy in Rome confined itself to asserting that it “Hope that what happened will not affect our bilateral relations”, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed his wish “That the good relations between Italy and Russia continue”, without announcing an immediate reply.

In a statement to the press shortly after the announcement of the arrest, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio spoke of a “Hostile act of extreme gravity”, using unusually firm terms, when Italy has not ceased, for years, to spare Russia as much as possible.

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