Fifteen million dollars. That’s the size of the bounty reportedly offered by the Kremlin for the head of Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, according to Italy’s intelligence department, as relayed by Il Foglio. That’s the latest, most worrisome development in Moscow’s exponentially aggressive and frustrated stance on Rome, which it once saw as Europe’s soft underbelly.
Zooming out. Italy’s intelligence operatives discovered the bounty last week, before the Wagner Group’s Chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, hurled heavy insults at Mr Crosetto for his words on the Russian mercenaries in Africa and stability. That’s just the last in a long list of Russian figures offending Mr Crosetto, along with other Italian officials.
- The list includes Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian President and Vice-President of the Security Council, who once called Minister Crosetto a “rare fool” and whose outbursts against “ungrateful” Italy are – according to the Italian intel community – the origin of the bounty.
- A host of other Kremlin mouthpieces, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Russian Ambassador to Italy Sergey Razov, and famed propagandist Vladimir Solovyov have also repeatedly attacked Italian institutions.
Is it an actionable threat? As noted by Il Foglio, intel officials believe the Kremlin’s orders may be carried out through the Wagner Group itself. The mercenary outfit – and parastatal organ – has at least two cells in Europe, namely in the Balkans, moving between Serbia and Albania, and in the Baltics, based in Estonia.
- Both count a few dozen members, and a smaller group could carry out missions elsewhere in Europe. The intelligence services of other countries, such as Poland or France, have reported similar fears.