You alright there, PM? Half of Europe’s chancelleries, along with the United States’, wonder how much longer Mario Draghi can hold onto the helm of Italy’s government.
- The Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has deepened the rifts in the almost all-encompassing “national unity” coalition.
- Among the rowdiest political leaders is Matteo Salvini, who was once close with Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin and is now calling for peace (by opposing weapons shipments to Ukraine).
Salvini’s trip to Moscow. Most recently, the leader of the League (an important government partner) decided to capitalise on his special relationship with the Kremlin – by announcing he wanted to go on a mission to Moscow and discuss “peace” with none other than Mr Putin.
- The announcement triggered an uproar in Italian politics, including within the League. Among the questions flying around: in what capacity would Mr Salvini negotiate with Moscow? And why does he not coordinate with (his) Italian government?
“I can do this”. Mr Salvini is brushing off the criticism and vowing to move forward. He also lambasted those who criticised him (the majority of the Italian political establishment) by accusing them of not “raising a finger to achieve peace” and “preferring to talk about weapons and war.”
- The leader of the League boasts a preferential channel with Mr Putin, at least on paper: in 2017 he linked his party to that of the Russian president, United Russia, through an agreement of information exchange and collaboration. This pact was tacitly renewed on 6 March 2022, with the invasion underway.
He kept in touch with the Kremlin, too. As revealed by the Italian press, Mr Salvini’s been talking to Moscow through as many as four separate meetings with the Russian ambassador in Rome, Sergey Razov.
- The first meeting happened in March, the last in mid-May. They were all conducted during the invasion and without notifying the Italian government and diplomacy.
- When asked about them, Mr Salvini said he had always worked transparently and in accordance with the government – which stated the opposite.
- Ambassador Razov did not deny either. In fact, he doubled down on the Moscow trip by stating that “there are no obstacles to [Mr Salvini’s] entry into the Russian Federation.”
The fixer. A lawyer and former politician, Antonio Capuano, mediated the obscure series of meetings. He had no formal assignment but acted as a go-between for the trip to Russia and guaranteed that Mr Putin himself was also informed.
Is this a political crisis brewing in Russian sauce? It’s hard to imagine the government majority blowing up because of the intemperances of Mr Salvini, the “pacifist”.
- The next general elections will be held in less than a year, and none of the parties intends to pull the plug.
- Mr Draghi reiterated that “the government is aligned with its G7 and EU partners and intends to continue on this path. These things will not move it,” he added.
But Mr Salvini looks set to continue fostering the Russian connection in Rome.