Italian journalist Christian Rocca said, “The Russian Ministry of Defense, which currently deployed soldiers and agents on Italian soil, intimidates Italian journalists as it usually does at home.” The statement followed threats voiced by Russian defense ministry spox Igor Konashenkov against La Stampa journo Jacopo Iacoboni. These threats were related to his report, which, among other things, said the Kremlin had deployed intelligence agents, along with bacteriological warfare experts, as part of the Russian “assistance” mission to Italy. The Russian official had his press release published on the Facebook page of the Russian Embassy in Rome. It concludes with a threat to La Stampa journalists: “As for the relations with the real clients of La Stampa’s russophobia, who are known to us, we recommend that they follow an old maxim: ‘Qui fodit foveam, incidet in eam (He who digs a pit falls into it). To be clearer: Bad penny always comes back.’ From Russia with love.”
In fact, what Russia did was intimidate Italian journalists through the platform of its embassy in Italy, which makes such a threat the Kremlin’s official position distributed through official diplomatic channels. This is a serious challenge to freedom of speech in Europe, since Moscow had not previously taken such steps on EU soil.
This “From Russia with Love” phrase is known to many thanks to Fleming’s novel and a James Bond movie shot in 1963. The very name of the Russian mission in Italy exposes that the operation is pretty much about espionage.
Russian troops deployed in Italy, as their defense officials claim, have been studying the language of the host country, which isn’t among responsibilities of military medics, while suggesting that those troops are with Russia’s military intelligence or special operations forces.
La Stampa’s pieces saw no refutation either by the Italian prime minister, or the ministry of foreign affairs, or the defense ministry, which seems to have fallen victim to pro-Russian efforts by PM Giuseppe Conte.
Currently, there is a sufficient amount of open source information allowing to analyze Russian military presence in Italy and confirm suggestions put forward by La Stampa reporters.
In an interview with the Russian Zvezda TV channel, affiliated with the Ministry of Defense, the commander of Chemical Defense Forces Igor Kirillov said 66 troops that are part of these forces had been deployed to Italy.
The team commander on the ground is Deputy Chief of Russian Chemical Defense Forces Sergey Kikot. Thus, the core of the team should also consist of troops that are part of these Chemical Defense Forces.
However, videos of the Russian group landing at the Pratica di Mare air base clearly shows troops sporting chevrons unrelated to the Chemical Forces. Meanwhile, Russia has inherited Soviet practices where military uniform for KGB operatives would envisage insignia of the Air Force or Signal Corps. Thus, specops troops and military intel officers have obviously been deployed with insignia of other military units.
- Insignia of Russia’s military unit deployed in Italy
- Insignia of Russia’s Chemical Defense Forces
Earlier, IGTDS analysts pointed out that at least one of the Russian troops deployed to Italy, who was put on the list as a member of the Kirov-based Military Medical Academy, was, in fact, part of the 48th Central Research Institute specializing in biological weapons.
Screenshot of TV Zvezda video proves Russian 48 Central Institute of Microbiology staff among those deployed in Italy.
In a commentary to the Zvezda TV channel, Chief of Italy’s Defense Staff, Enzo Vecciarelli, noted that the Italian side needs anesthetists, resuscitators, and lung ventilators. At the same time, it’s military chemists who form the core of Russia’s current military contingent in Italy. Russia sent to Italy equipment that is traditionally used in combat to disinfect heavy military hardware against chemical contamination.
Russia’s equipment sent to Italy is as follows:
– An analysis and genotyping module;
An analysis and genotyping module. TV Zvezda video.
– An information processing module (there was no sense in bringing in this kind of equipment as the virus strain is already known). Both pieces of equipment were developed with the support of the 48th Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense of Russia;
An information processing module. TV Zvezda video.
– Four vehicles with unidentified modules installed;
– Thirteen ARS-14KM stations, used both for disinfecting equipment and countering high precision weapons through deploying an aerosol shield, hiding the convoy on the move;
– Three disinfection aerosol complexes; and Disinfection aerosol complexes. TV Zvezda video.
– A biohazard reconnaissance vehicle.
Screenshot from TV Zvezda video.
License plates indicate that the vehicles are based in Moscow region, probably a branch of MoD’s 48 Central Institute of Microbiology in Sergiev Posad.
In March 2020, chemical defense exercises were held in the Central Military District of the Russian Federation to work out anti-coronavirus measures. Official footage shot by defense media shows troops sporting in the conditional contamination area special military biohazard suits, including in the vehicle cabins.
Chemical defense exercises, March 2020.
However, the analysis of photos and videos showing the work of the Russian team in Italy proves that the personnel deployed fail to follow the basic personal protection protocol, violating safety regulations, which may in fact testify to those troops belonging to other types of military forces.
Soldiers from the Russian military pack equipment following their full disinfection of the Foundation of Ponte S. Pietro nursing home (Fondazione Casa di Riposo di Ponte S. Pietro Onlus). The soldier’s face on the top of the vehicle is without protection that is violation of procedure. Photographer: Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
It’s also worth noting that none of the tenants of a care home for the elderly, where Russians carried out disinfection, tested positive for Covid-19.
The work of the Russian team in Italy proves that the personnel deployed fail to follow the basic personal protection protocol, violating safety regulations.
The team deployed in Italy includes two staffers of the Zvezda TV channel, which is part of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Among them is Konstantin Khudoleev, who speaks English, French and German, who was earlier injured in an IED explosion during his deployment in Syria. Also, he compiled reports discrediting the Bolivia events. Another Zvezda employee is Vyacheslav Amelyutin, a cameraman, who was one of the journalists earlier deported from Estonia over crafting a propaganda campaign. Just like Amelyutin, he had also worked in Syria. Analyzing previous achievements of both Zvezda journalists, it can be assumed that they are part of Russian military intelligence taking part in psy-ops.
For the Kremlin, the operation in Italy is an important ideological campaign. Russia perceives the deployment of their military contingent to Italy in the context of the events of April 13, 1799, when the troops of the Russian Empire led by Alexander Suvorov crossed the Alps and entered Bergamo as part of their Italian campaign. Russia’s modern-day command sees the current operation as a move that could repeat the “Russia’s victorious liberation campaign in Italy against the West, personified by NATO.
In addition to the propagandist and symbolic aspects of the Russian mission in Italy, their troops are also set to fulfill technical and military tasks. The Russian convoy drove 600 kilometers from the base of Pratica di Mare near Rome toward Lombardy. The logic might seem meaningless to many, since there are at least four airfields within 100 km around Bergamo, capable of receiving Candid-type cargo aircraft (Il-76).
The number of aircraft that landed in Pratica di Mare and their landing interval resembles an operation Russia conducted in Crimea in 2014, when a group was deployed on the peninsula, having been brought there within several hours by Russian military cargo aircraft before capturing key strategic targets in the area, blocking Ukrainian military units, and ultimately annexing the peninsula. Thus, the operation in Italy can be seen as a drill working out an aerial component of the deployment of a military group in the territory of one of the NATO Allies.
According to sources in the Russian defense ministry, as the Russian convoy was moving across Italy, troops worked out their actions in the conditions of a gas (chemical) attack. In particular, systems were tested to create excess pressure in vehicle cabins, as well as the Russian defense ministry’s performance in the field of respiratory safety of troops. Therefore, there is documentary evidence of suggestions put forward by La Stampa proving that 80% of Russian aid sent to Italy is, in fact, useless, while troops deployed are not just military doctors, but also intelligence operatives, spec-ops officers, and military chemists.