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Di Maio’s Atlantic trench

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio split up with the 5-Star Movement to form a new group. A choice dictated by a very different view of foreign policy and of the Russian war in Ukraine from that of former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio split up with the 5-Star Movement, the party he once led, to form a new group, “Insieme Per Il Futuro” (Together For The Future), taking with him around 70 lawmakers. Di Maio fully embraces an Atlanticist stance and stands in clear support of Ukraine. His position clashes with that of former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who’s now the party leader and previously argued against sending any more weapons to Kyiv.

What side of history are you on? FM Di Maio made his position clear ahead of yesterday’s vote in the Italian Parliament, which green lighted a new support package to Ukraine, including military aid.

  • At a press conference on Tuesday’s night, the Foreign minister said it’s time to “choose which side of history to be on, in support with the country that was attacked, Ukraine, or with the aggressor, Russia.”
  • Mr Di Maio accused the 5-Star of jeopardizing Italy’s international standing, the country’s Atlantic and pro-NATO position to counter the party’s lagging support in the opinion polls.
  • Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba thanked Mr Di Maio and called him “a man of integrity.” “Italy has chosen the right side of history: supporting Ukraine is the only way to bring peace in Europe closer. Denying Ukraine support would encourage Russia to continue the war”, he commented.

The roots of Di Maio’s diplomacy. Back in February 2018, before he was a member of government, Mr Di Maio has often argued that Italy “must stay” in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and in Europe.

  • Back in November 2017, during his first trip to the U.S. capital Washington DC as the leader of the 5-Star, Mr Di Maio told the Washington Post: “We have no intention of isolating Italy. We have no intention of exalting nationalistic sentiments. We reject absolutely the characterization of being called a ‘populist’ movement”.

A boomerang effect. Ex-PM Conte has been clear in his position that sending more weapons to Ukraine risks prolonging the conflict, including the negative effects in the global economy and the suffering of the Ukrainian people. But is his position winning? Mr Conte will have to spin or rebrand his anti-Atlanticist stance to fit into this current geopolitical juncture.

  • Mr Conte’s spokesman said the split will likely have a “boomerang” effect for Mr Di Maio.
  • But it might be the exact opposite as Russian propaganda is already praising Mr Conte, with news outlets linked to the Kremlin already hailing him as pro-Russian.
  • The Kyiv Post called out the 5-Star for “its unwillingness to support Ukraine.”

Political dilemma. Italy is due to hold elections next year and the split between Mr Di Maio and Mr Conte not only will rock PM Draghi’s ruling coalition, but will play a key role, as the country is still ambivalent about supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion, according to recent polls.

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