Some love stories never end. In Italy, the pro-Russian faction is alive and well – and it spans across multiple parties. They have only changed flags. As a result, the country is split in two:
- On the one hand there’s Mario Draghi, who’s ready to pay an official visit to Washington, and his government that sides decidedly with Ukraine and the Western cause.
- On the other hand, a consistent part of the political spectrum is back to winking at Moscow disguised as sincere pacifists.
Did someone say League? Matteo Salvini, the party’s leader, has at least one merit: he does everything out in the open. For years he’s been among the biggest European supporters of Putin, “one of the great leaders of the 21st Century.” Today, he’s embarrassed.
- Mr Salvini condemns “the war,” without specifying who triggered it. And from within the government coalition, he and his party oppose sending more and more effective weapons to the Ukrainian resistance.
The pope’s playbook. To do so, Mr Salvini follows a well-established script: quoting from memory (and exploiting) Pope Francis and his appeals against rearmament.
- Recently, he began targeting US President Joe Biden, claiming that “with Trump [in the White House] we would not have been at war.”
- Lingering in the background is an official agreement between the League and United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s party. League members dismiss it as old business, but it was tacitly renewed for another 5 years in early March – in the early days of the invasion.
Five Star Movement: same score. Once lone allies in government, the 5SM and the League are now formal rivals. But a Russian marriage may help reunite the pair.
- Giuseppe Conte, former PM and leader of the 5SM, has become the leader of the “pacifists” – with the term indicating those who oppose sending arms to Ukraine. “No way,” thundered Mr Conte, promising to fight in Parliament.
- Meanwhile, a section of his party cheerfully spreads the theses of Russian propagandists on Italian TV.
Clinging to the seat. Meanwhile, the party is grappling with the Vito Petrocelli case. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and first-hour 5SM member has sympathised on Twitter by using the “Z” of Putin’s invasion. Mr Conte wants to expel him, MPs want him to resign, but he is still there – and Parliament’s mechanism make it hard to oust him.
Why it matters: in Washington, PM Draghi will seek to reassure President Biden stating that Italy stands with the West and the Ukrainian resistance. But his government coalition, eyeing the April 2023 elections, is less solid than expected.
- A government shake-up at the hands of the League and the 5SM could spell its premature end, and pave the way for another government, much less willing to stand within the Western front.
- As the European Union is still bickering over what sanctions to impose on Russia (which require unanimity), the fate of Mr Draghi’s government and the moves of the pro-Russians in Rome could send gigantic shockwaves across the West.