Ukraine’s driving the escalation, according to Conte. On Wednesday, Western leaders – including the Italian PM, Mario Draghi – roundly condemned Vladimir Putin’s escalation of his war against Ukraine. Italian politicians, who are in the last days of the elections campaign, generally fell in line. One notable exception: Giuseppe Conte.
- That very day, the leader of the Five Star Movement managed to criticise the Ukrainian President for requesting longer-range weapons from Western allies.
- “[Volodymyr] Zelensky is accepting the logic of military escalation,” he said in an interview with La7, “but what is the limit of this escalation?”
- He then voiced his desire to work towards a “peace process” instead of arming Kyiv – although the Kremlin has always rejected attempts to mediate and talk over its invasion efforts – and threw in some anti-Western talking points for good measure.
- “I have seen [Draghi] very willing, thoughtful, and solicitous in following a strategy decided in Washington,” he told La7. “I would have preferred an Italian government ready to lead the Euro-Atlantic strategy towards a negotiating strategy.”
With Draghi, against Draghi. After supporting Mr Draghi’s government as it approved four weapons packages, the 5SM sparked its collapse. Likewise, Mr Conte has been fluctuating between supporting and opposing that government’s Euro-Atlantic alignment.
- He also attacked Giorgia Meloni, the right-wing frontrunner to become Italy’s next PM, and former coalition partner Enrico Letta, head of the Democratic Party, by accusing them of “having helmets on their heads” (a reference to their support for Ukraine’s armed defence).
Conditioned reflex. Although Mr Conte ostensibly supports the Ukrainian resistance (enough to rejoice when it re-conquered parts of the country), he opposes sending more weapons to Kyiv.
- He’s also been campaigning to capture the anti-NATO crowd, which tends to overlap with anti-US and anti-Western sentiment – and by extension, with pro-Russia and pro-China ideologies.
China, too? In 2019, when he was Prime Minister, Mr Conte signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Xi Jinping that caused Italy to join the Belt and Road Initiative – the only G7 country to do so. And although Italy has since backtracked, the 5SM’s leader told La Stampa he’d sign it again.
- He characterised his actions as favourable for Italy’s trade balance and a way to catch up with other European countries that did more business with China.
- “For the first time, we made the Chinese sign clauses in line with Western values that were initially unacceptable to them,” he added. Which is untrue, as the non-binding MoU is confined within the two countries’ legal systems and does not set norms.