Pushing the envelope. On Tuesday, Russian Ambassador to Italy Sergey Razov published an open letter, ostensibly in response to Defence Minister Guido Crosetto’s recent words on Russia, Ukraine and Italy’s role. In it, he accused the Italian government of “unjustifiably refus[ing] banking services, [forcibly closing] current accounts and other discriminatory restrictions” against Russian citizens.
- The letter points out Mr Crosetto’s words on maintaining open communication channels with the Russian people and enumerates all the ways in which the government supposedly hinders dialogue, travel and ties between Italians and Russians.
- The list of measures Mr Razov refers to consist of Italy’s upholding of Western sanctions, which were a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intended to dissuade the Kremlin from pursuing the aggression. But the ambassador conveniently skirted that subject.
Sounds like an accomplishment list. In his letter, Ambassador Razov laments that “Russia, basically at the initiative of the previous Italian government, was deprived of access to 300 billion dollars of its own foreign exchange reserves”, as well as Italy seizing “real estate, property and other assets of Russian businessmen declared as ‘oligarchs’” – the enablers of Vladimir Putin’s regime – which he calls “an entire category of our country’s citizens who have invested their capital in Italy’s development are being discriminated against.”
- Other “discriminations” are the expulsion of thirty diplomats from the Russian Embassy; the stripping of ten Russian officials of Italian honours; the end of direct air connections between Italy and Russia; and “complicated visa procedures, the cost of which has more than doubled”. All of it is seasoned with a healthy dose of self-pity, but Ukraine and Italy’s support are not mentioned once.
- “And this is by no means an exhaustive list of the steps taken since last year by the Italian side to unilaterally prevent contacts, destroy previously active channels of bilateral dialogue,” wrote Mr Razov. “And here, Minister, I am sure you would find it very difficult to mention any initiative taken in the same direction by the Russian side.”
It’s a playbook. This is far from the first time Italian institutions or even private citizens incurred the wrath of the Kremlin’s megaphones. Most recently, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Minister Crosetto a “rare fool” – using a Russian play on words to aggravate the insult.
- The recent flurry of attacks and disinformation is an attempt to pressure Italy out of supporting Ukraine, including through military means.
- The timing explains it. As Mr Crosetto told us on Friday, the next weapons package – slated to include air defence equipment to shield Ukrainian citizens from Russian missiles, including the advanced SAMP/T system – “could be born [this] week.