Russia deploys to Italy chemical weapons experts
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A halo of secrecy is looming over Russia’s humanitarian mission on Italian soil. The team consists of military servicemen with a rather dubious past, rather than ordinary doctors or biologists, the Italian newspaper La Stampa wrote on April 16, 2020.La Stampa
A 104-strong group of Russian troops on a mission to Bergamo, agreed by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Russian President Vladimir Putin, was initially joined by 50 Italian servicemen with the Army’s special unit – 7th Regiment of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense. The Italians are led by Lieutenant Colonel Dario de Masse; while the Russian contingent’s commander is General Sergey Kikot, a top official with a vivid past.
Kikot is Deputy Chief of the Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Troops of the Russian Armed Forces (headed by Igor Kirillov), reporting directly to the Russian Ministry of Defense.
He is also an expert chemist, whom Russian government attracted to serious political cases. The most infamous one was the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s forces against civilians in the city of Douma (Syria).
On March 11, 2019 in The Hague, Kikot was told to support the report of the Russian Ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Alexander Shulgin, who denied all charges pressed against Assad and claimed that the evidence of the chemical attack was “staged”.
“The Russian Federation continues to insist that both the incident in Douma and supporting evidence were falsified,” Kikot said, summing up his report. Sputnik News Agency said no traces of organophosphorus and other chemicals were detected. Kikot also questioned the ballistic analysis and the number of victims in the attack of April 7, 2018 – forty-three dead and 500 wounded.
NOT ORDNIARY DOCTOR
In short, it’s not a regular doctor who arrives in Italy, but a chemical and bacteriological expert, whom Russia entrusted with the issue of prime geopolitical importance for the Kremlin (the OPCW’s counter-investigation was submitted by Russia in tandem with Syria, which strongly alienated Russia from the European Union and the Western community).
Later, an independent investigation commissioned by the OPCW refuted those Russian findings, but that’s a different story.
Also, Kikot’s CV draws attention due to the fact that, at least since 2009, the general had been representing Russia’s defense ministry on the board of companies involved in the production and repair of weapons and equipment for chemical, radioactive and biological protection. He is a recognized expert in the disposal chemical weapons and hazardous material.
Sources in the UN body probing chemical attacks in Syria have confirmed to La Stampa that they had met with the man, whom they see as the Kremlin’s direct emissary, tasked with complying with top-level instructions from Moscow.
And this is not about technical work, with which lower-level personnel are dealing – it’s precisely a political job. That’s according to a source close to the American intelligence community: “Each time the Kremlin deploys personnel for a diplomatic mission, it’s a firm case that that there are intelligence operatives among them. In this case, most of those sent to Italy are with the GRU military intelligence. There’s no doubt that Russia exploited the invitation to conduct intelligence.”
Other Russians who arrived in Italy as part of a mission called “From Russia with Love” are also worth mentioning. The group also includes Lt. Col. Alexander Yumanov, Colonel Alexei Smirnov, Lt. Col. Gennady Eremin, and Lt. Col. Vyacheslav Kulish. They took part in research projects for an Ebola vaccine, led by the defense ministry’s 48th Central Scientific Research Institute and Vector Research Laboratory, a facility that had been developing biological weapons since Soviet times.
The official Russian reports claim they are all members of the Kirov Military Medical Academy, although some signs indicate involvement with the 48th Central Research Institute.
Kirill Shamiev, a military analyst who has never been suspected of Russophobia, wrote about Colonel Eremin that he is an expert in bacteriological warfare who worked to beat swine plague.
Colonel Vyacheslav Kulish, an expert in developing protection against viral biological agents, also worked in programs against Ebola and the plague.
Alexander Yumanov worked on Ebola while in Guinea.
Colonel Alexei Smirnov, an expert epidemiologist on the prevention of infectious diseases, participated in the development of a vaccine against Ebola.
When first Il cargo planes arrived at the Pratica di Mare military airfield, Russian mission leaders asked Italians to cover the high cost of flight and fuel.
The publication asked the Italian side to comment on this story, as well as to tell, what kind of passports the Russian military presented, setting foot on Italian soil. Having received no response from government sources, the newspaper turned to the parliamentary committee on security issues, where officials responded that this was “information with limited access.” Quite unusual for a humanitarian mission…