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Russia expels Italian diplomat in tit-for-tat move amid espionage charges

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A man walks in front of the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Russia, on December 22, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has decided to expel an Italian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move following the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Rome last month over an alleged espionage charge.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest what it described as “unfriendly” and “groundless” the move by Rome on Monday, informing him that Italian naval attache has been declared persona non grata.

The Italian diplomat would have 24 hours to leave the country.

The ministry added that the measure came in response to Italy’s recent decision to expel two Russian diplomats on the grounds that they were "spies."

On March 31, Italy announced the “immediate expulsion” of the two diplomats in the wake of the arrest of an Italian navy captain accused of giving out “confidential documents” to a Russian military officer in exchange for money.

The frigate captain, who reportedly worked at the office of Chief of the Defense Staff, was arrested on spying charges after a “clandestine meeting” with the Russian a day earlier in Rome, Italy’s police said in a statement.

He was caught handing over classified documents, including NATO dossiers, to one of the Russians in exchange for 5,000 Euros, it added.

The Italian Foreign Ministry immediately condemned Moscow’s decision, describing it as "unfounded and unjust because it is in retaliation for a legitimate measure taking by the Italian authorities in defense of their own security."

Italy is one of the countries within the European Union and a NATO member with the warmest relations with Russia.

The latest development comes amid growing tensions between Russia and Western-aligned governments in central and eastern Europe.

Last Tuesday, Russia expelled two Bulgarian diplomats in retaliation for Sofia’s recent expulsion of two Russian diplomats over alleged espionage activities.

Over a similar allegation, the Czech Republic on Saturday asked 18 Russian diplomats to leave. Moscow responded with the expulsion of 20 Czech diplomats.

Russia has denied the allegations against its diplomats.

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