Russia and the League have been talking. Italian daily La Stampa reportedly obtained a document of Italian intelligence. It concerned a meeting in late May between Oleg Kostyukov, a top official of the Russian Embassy in Italy, and Antonio Capuano, international relations advisor to the League’s leader Matteo Salvini.
- Mr Kostyukov is directly linked to the Russian intelligence apparatus. His father is Igor Kostyukov, the director of GRU (Russia’s main intelligence directorate) and one of the men closest to Vladimir Putin.
- Mr Capuano was the linchpin of Mr Salvini’s failed attempt to travel to Moscow for a “peace mission” in early summer. He even borrowed money from Mr Kostyukov to get around sanctions and purchase plane tickets; Mr Salvini later stated he had paid them back.
Will you tank Draghi’s government? When that meeting happened, the League and the Five Star Movement were attacking the Prime Minister over military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to block it. Alas, La Stampa’s report suggests Moscow may have been looking favourably on these attempts.
- According to the documents obtained by La Stampa, Mr Kostyukov “reportedly asked if the League ministers were willing to resign from the government” and hinted “at the possible Russian interest in destabilising the balance of the Italian government through this operation.”
- Incidentally, both the 5SM and the League have long been the most pro-Russian parties in Parliament. And they were the main forces driving the government’s fall last week.
No surprises there. As Fabrizio Cicchitto, former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, wrote on Decode39, Mr Salvini is – and always has been – “a Putinist on permanent duty.” His close links to Russia are well-documented, and back in March, the League tacitly renewed its cooperation and information-sharing deal with Mr Putin’s United Russia party.
- PM Draghi seemed to reference the pro-Russian parties when addressing Parliament last week. “In foreign policy, we have seen attempts to weaken the government’s support for Ukraine, to weaken our opposition to President Putin’s design,” he stated.
Salvini’s response. Speaking at Radio24 on Thursday morning, the leader of the League called La Stampa’s report “nonsense” and maintained he had always been working towards “peace.”
- He said that Italy’s Euro-Atlantic positioning “would not change one bit” in the event of the rightwing coalition winning the upcoming elections but added that “there’s nothing wrong for Italy to maintain good relations with everyone” – including Russia.
- Later in the day, the head of the Italian intelligence, Franco Gabrielli, stated that La Stampa’s information did not come out of his department.