How Russia became the central theme of the Italian elections

With the effects it has been causing on geopolitics and the world economy through the invasion of Ukraine, Russia undoubtedly plays a protagonist role (or antagonist?) on a global scale in 2022. In Italy’s general elections, which will be held next Sunday (25), this influence has appeared very strongly.

The right-wing coalition that leads the polls (and which could make Giorgia Meloni the country’s first female prime minister) internally diverges on sanctions on Moscow, the main bet – along with military aid to Kyiv – for a Ukrainian victory in the conflict started in February.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, one of the coalition parties, said in early September that the conservative alliance will continue to support Ukraine, but put the continuity of economic retaliation against Vladimir Putin’s country is doubtful.

“If we take over the government, will we change our alliances? Not. We remain deeply, proudly and firmly rooted in a free and democratic West that opposes war and aggression,” he declared. “But if we adopted an instrument to harm the aggressor and after seven months of war he was not harmed, at least considering a change seems legitimate to me.”

Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy (FdI), the party that heads the coalition, has reiterated that an eventual right-wing government would maintain the policies of the current prime minister Mario Draghi on this issue, so that the country’s “international credibility” is maintained – that is, aid Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.

The association with Putin haunts the League and another coalition party, Forza Italia (FI), led by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (the fourth legend of the alliance is Nós Moderados). The League has already been investigated by the Italian court on suspicion of having received money from Moscow and Salvini has expressed admiration for the Russian president in the past, with whom Berlusconi is a friend.

Last week , the US secret services disclosed that Russia had financed politicians from other countries with US$ 300 million. Although Italian parties were not named, the League, the FdI and the FI were quick to deny the receipt of funds.

Meloni announced a lawsuit against the newspaper Repubblica and against Kurt Volker, former US ambassador to NATO, who told the publication: “We have known for years that Russians use financial resources to influence elections across the West. They try to promote division in our societies and between our countries. These US$ 300 million did not produce much, but they did improve the prospects of some parties, such asLe Pen in France and the FdI in Italy”.

This Thursday (22), Berlusconi, who had criticized the Russian president at the start of the war, told Italian public broadcaster RAI that Putin “was pressured by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to create this special operation” – citing the Kremlin’s term for itself. refer to the invasion of Ukraine.

Berlusconi further claimed that Russia’s initial plan was to conquer Kyiv “in a week” and replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with “a government of decent people” and leave “the next week”.

Another tight skirt in this last week of the campaign was a Twitter post made by the Russian Embassy in Italy that showed pictures of Putin alongside Italian politicians such as former prime minister Matteo Renzi, Salvini, Berlusconi and left-wing coalition leader Enrico Letta, Meloni’s main opponent in Sunday’s election.

The images were accompanied by a provocative message: “From the recent history of Russian-Italian relations. There is something to remember.”

Most already support the removal of sanctions

In August, the Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for politicians who advocate sanctions against Moscow to be defeated in elections being held this year in Europe.

“We would like to see European citizens not only outraged by the actions of their governments, but also to hold them accountable and punish them for their obvious stupidity,” he wrote on Telegram. “Take action, European neighbors. Don’t be silent. Demand that they be held accountable.”

Also last month, the Intelligence Committee of the Italian Parliament pointed out in its annual report that Italy suffers from “a substantial weakness in its interventions to combat disinformation and the various forms of interference” in the cyberwar environment – ​​and mentioned Russia as one of those threats.

“Edit and spread fake news, campaigns social media and the use of trolls are establishing themselves as sophisticated and comprehensive tools of influence for Russia and other state actors,” the document indicated.

Regardless of Russian interference or not in the Italian electoral process, the rise in inflation (the year-on-year rate was 8.4% in August, the highest in more than 22 years), especially in the sector of energy, has already caused a drop in the population’s support for sanctions against Russia.

In a recent survey by the Instituto Termometro Político, 51% of respondents said they were in favor of removing them to alleviate pressures on the Italian economy.

Michele Geraci, former undersecretary of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development and close to the summit of the Liga, left in the air the possibility of reviewing sanctions if the right-wing coalition is really the winner next Sunday.

“Both [Meloni e Salvini] want sanctions that end to war–that is the object. There is a lot of confusion about whether sanctions are working or not. Salvini is slowly understanding that they are not, while Meloni may not have understood this yet. After the election campaign, when they have time to properly assess the impact, they may decide to abandon them [sanções] or try to modify them”, he said, in an interview with the English newspaper The Guardian.

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