The ties that bind. The League’s Matteo Salvini has been one of the most vocal supporters of Vladimir Putin’s Russia up until it invaded Ukraine and then some. Along with the Five Star Movement’s Giuseppe Conte, he has been critical of sending military aid to Kyiv and European sanctions on Moscow, vouching instead for a rather undefined “peace process”.
- Mr Salvini’s party, the League, did not show up in the recent US report on Russian corruption in Europe.
- Still, unresolved investigations aside, his close links to Russia are well-documented. And crucially, the League tacitly renewed its cooperation and information-sharing deal with Mr Putin’s United Russia party back in March.
That’s not a great look, especially on the campaign trail (Italians will vote for their next government on Sunday). And while Mr Salvini has been stepping down his pro-Russia statements, which sit awkwardly with his Euro-Atlantic coalition partners, he’s also been sidestepping the issue as much as possible.
An awkward interview. Speaking on Radio24 on Wednesday morning, he was pressed by the presenter on his Russian relations – and was none too pleased. “Let’s not jest. Everyone has had relations with Putin: Renzi, Letta, Prodi, Berlusconi. All of them,” he said, naming four former prime ministers.
- The presenter rightly pointed out that their contacts with President Putin had happened in an institutional capacity, whereas he and the League were politically involved. Mr Salvini answered that “when a war breaks out, one changes his perspective” and lamented the fact he was being asked to talk about Russia.
The Russian mirror. Interestingly, Mr Salvini’s defensive line about not being the only one to have had contacts with Russia closely resembles Moscow’s own communication strategy in Italy. On Thursday, the Twitter profile of the Russian Embassy in Italy posted pictures of Italian politicians – all of which are running in the ongoing elections as party leaders – and accompanied them with an ominous-sounding label: “From the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy. We have some to remember.”
- The post seems to adhere to a textbook Russian infowar tactic, i.e. pushing the idea that everyone’s compromised to muddle the waters and undermine the electors’ trust in their representatives. Which is especially serious just three days ahead of the elections. But again, it’s not like the Kremlin hasn’t been interfering already.
Naming names. The Embassy’s tweet is below. Top left to bottom right, with the official titles at the time of shooting: Matteo Salvini (deputy PM), Giuseppe Conte (PM), Luigi Di Maio (deputy PM); Enrico Letta (PM); Silvio Berlusconi (PM); Matteo Renzi (PM).
- The Democratic Party’s Piero Fassino, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies’ Foreign Affairs Committee, fired back at the Embassy. “If you had not set out to invade a free and independent country, which has never threatened you, the collection of photos with our heads of government would have continued,” he tweeted.
Dalla recente storia delle relazioni tra la Russia e l’Italia. Ne abbiamo da ricordare.
Из недавней истории российско-итальянских отношений. Есть что вспомнить. pic.twitter.com/WrOyrJXDuz
— Russian Embassy in Italy (@rusembitaly) September 22, 2022