Italy expels Russian officials for spying

·2-min read

Italy has ordered two Russian embassy officials expelled and arrested an Italian navy captain on spying charges after police caught the Italian allegedly giving classified documents to one of the Russians in exchange for money.

The Italian foreign ministry said it summoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Razov, and protested the "grave incident" after a sting operation on the outskirts of Rome allegedly caught the Italian and one of the Russians in what police said was a "clandestine operation" to exchange the documents late Tuesday.

Italy's Carabinieri paramilitary police said the Italian naval officer, who is a frigate captain, had been arrested. The Russian observed with him, a member of the Russian armed forces stationed at the Russian embassy in Italy, was initially detained but not immediately placed under arrest given his diplomatic status.

He was ordered expelled along with another Russian embassy official allegedly involved, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a Facebook post. Di Maio did not provide details about the suspected role of the second Russian.

Italy's special operations forces in Rome staged the operation "during a clandestine operation between the two, surprising them red-handed immediately after the handing over of classified documents by the Italian official in exchange for a sum of money", the Carabinieri said in a statement.

Both were accused of "serious crimes concerning espionage and state security."

The Russian embassy in Rome confirmed the detention of a diplomat who was part of the military attache's office but would not comment on the incident.

"In any case, we hope that it wouldn't affect bilateral ties," it said in a statement.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin was unaware of details of the incident, but noted that "we hope that the quite positive and constructive character of the Russian-Italian relations will be preserved."

The Russian foreign ministry voiced regret about the diplomats' expulsion in a terse statement carried by Russian news agencies. It said its "possible steps in connection with the situation that doesn't conform with the level of bilateral ties will be announced later".