Walter Biot, an Italian Navy Captain, was arrested on Tuesday, March 30th, upon divulging 181 classified documents on a flash drive concerning Italy and NATO’s security and ongoings with a Russian embassy diplomat. The 56-year-old has worked in the Defence Ministry’s Press Office and is currently a Frigate Captain and Defence Ministry Policy Officer making him quite informative. In a parking lot in Rome, the Carabinieri del Ros Special Operations Group interrupted what they described as a “clandestine meeting between the two.”
The Washington Post explains that Biot was being watched for months by the Italian intelligence. In response to the event, the Italian Foreign Ministry swiftly summoned Sergey Razov, Russia’s ambassador, and expelled the two unnamed Russian officials involved. According to BBC News, the Kremlin hopes that the “very positive and constructive nature of Russian-Italian relations will continue.” Their spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that they “don’t have information about the reasons for or the circumstances of this detention.” Regardless, responses to the expulsions are expected, as indicated to Ansa News Agency by the foreign ministry in Moscow.
The following Thursday saw a judge in Rome deny Biot release from jail to be under house arrest. His justifications are that the allegations against Biot are weighty and his concerns of Biot committing more crimes. Biot’s attorney Roberto De Vita met with him at Rome’s Regina Coeli Prison in an isolation cell as per COVID-19 procedures. De Vita explained that Biot maintains that he had no access to information that compromises Italy and NATO’s security and ongoings. According to De Vita, “He [Biot] is convinced that he can reduce or put into perspective the significance of his actions compared to what was divulged and what was said.” Biot is determined to show how those documents were “of little or scarce relevance and that regardless, in most cases were already available from other sources.”
De Vita also disclosed that Biot was most concerned about the allegations’ repercussions for his financially struggling family. See, Biot was to be paid 5,000 euros for the documents; however, his family insists that he wouldn’t do anything like this.
Regardless, the Judge in Rome felt Biot’s alleged actions were well-planned, not “isolated or sporadic.” He said evidence showed Biot had used four cellphones and “had no scruples betraying the trust of his institution for economic reasons.” The Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio similarly deems it a “hostile act of extreme gravity.” Still, he reassured that Italy would “continue acting in line with our geopolitical position and our values” while simultaneously “safeguarding our [Italy’s] fundamental interests, which require us to maintain a critical but constructive interlocution with Russia and China.” This statement is akin to the Russian Embassy’s in Rome, which included that they hope the espionage does “not impact on the[ir] bilateral relationship.”
The civil nature in which Russia and Italy are handling the situation is a wise step in de-escalating a potential trigger for violence and destruction. As for Biot, it appears to be too early to write him off as a traitor. The Judge, amongst others, should await the revelations in further evidence and Biot’s story. If the allegations made are proven correct, Italy must maintain tactful dealings with Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members, given the current political climate.
NATO is a significant political and military alliance between 30 nations from Europe and North America. Their purpose is to protect the freedom and security of all members through collective decisions and defense. Russia joined NATO in 1994; however, after the Ukraine crisis, they were removed in 2014. Although part of NATO, Italy has maintained relations with Russia, exhibited in Moscow’s swift aid to Italy when COVID-19 erupted last year. They sent supplies and many military officers with the words: “From Russia with love.”
Looking to the future, there is hope that Italy and Russia will remain civil, considering their response to these allegations against Biot so far. According to BBC, Biot may face fifteen years in prison if the allegations are proven true. If NATO secrets have been disclosed, this not only affects Italy’s national security but that of all of the 30 members of NATO. Italy’s relations with other NATO nations will be affected. Nevertheless, this scandal is a test for the strength of Italian-Russian relations. But for now, we must patiently await Biot’s story.
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