Conte’s mental gymnastics. “The Ukrainian forces’ progress is very good news and demonstrates that Kyiv – thanks to the huge influx of weapons from Europe and the United States – can repel the Russian invader. That is why we agreed to the aid. Now the priority is peace.”
- Thus spoke Giuseppe Conte, leader of the 5 Stars Movement, in an interview with the daily Il Resto del Carlino that appeared on Monday, apparently melding support for and aversion to sending weapons to Ukraine.
Making sense of his position. As the relative majority party in Mario Draghi’s outgoing government, the 5SM effectively approved all four of the weapons packages that Rome sent to Kyiv. Nonetheless, the party was never too happy about it – perhaps owing to its past closeness to Vladimir Putin’s Russia – and military aid was ostensibly the reason why Mr Conte initiated the government’s fall.
As the elections near, the 5SM is attempting to capitalise on the “pacifists’” aversion to sending military aid, while also acknowledging their key role in the Ukrainian resistance as soon as the news about the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive broke. Let’s examine Mr Conte’s stances.
- On Saturday, he was in Coltano (Pisa) near a building site slated to become a major military base, speaking at a No War – No Base – No NATO demonstration. When asked if the 5SM would vote for the next arms shipment to Ukraine, he let the audience shout “no.”
- “We are against it, Italy cannot bear a new war effort, we are in a recession,” he explained, adding that “warlike fury does not work; let’s focus on Italy’s diplomatic ability [to reach] a negotiation.”
- A few hours later, probably after learning of the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Mr Conte said he was “proud” to have sent arms to Ukraine and to have helped make such progress possible.
- Speaking on air via Rai Tre, he expressed “firm condemnation” for the Russian aggression and “full support for the Ukrainian people. One cannot defend themselves with bare hands against such aggression. […] We’re all happy for this counteroffensive,” he added, wishing the Ukrainians would fully recover “all Russian-occupied territories.”
- On Sunday, the former PM spoke at the party of Il Fatto Quotidiano, a 5SM-friendly daily. On Monday, the paper wrote that his “real mantra” is opposing rearmament.
“Verbal contortion,” as Alessandro De Angelis wrote on La Stampa, was the result of Mr Conte’s efforts, revealing “just how much hypocrisy there has been and still exists in the variegated world of our own pacifism.” Some area commentators, he added, were theorising about the Ukrainians’ “duty to surrender” so as not to prolong the “inevitable agony” before Vladimir Putin’s “invincible army” would eventually prevail.
Still, Italian weapons will (likely) head to Ukraine again. On Friday, Adolfo Urso – a key member in the team surrounding Giorgia Meloni, who’s favoured to lead the next government – travelled to Kyiv and assured that Rome’s support would remain steady even after the elections.
- Together with Ukrainian officials, he “discussed the importance of preparing a new defence assistance package from Italy,” noted Mr Zelensky’s office.