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Milan, Italy – “Putin’s patriots” were plastered on the front page of Italian newspaper La Stampa on Thursday under a photo of the leader of the far-right Lega, or League party, Matteo Salvini, smiling with a thumbs-up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the Russian. the picture of the president.
It’s an old photo. But it’s a story with brand new legs. According to some allegations, the Russians have actively pushed certain Italian parties to withdraw their support for incumbent Prime Minister Mario Draghi, one of the European leaders who has been the hardest on Russia following its war against Ukraine.
Salvini insists that Russia was not behind the fall of this government. But he advocates dialogue with Vladimir Putin. Before the war, he even announced his support for the Russian leader in slightly better days. All of this adds to fears that Russia could somehow emerge as the winner of next month’s Italian elections.
Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left PD, or Democratic Party, sounded the alarm earlier this week because he says Russia has already meddled in Western elections in the US and UK , and this time the stakes couldn’t be higher. .
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“I raise a red alarm about this. And I would like the Italian government and the Italian intelligence services (on the case),” Letta said. “And I would also like to ask the European Union because there is a unit within the European Union that is focused on this to help us organize elections without any outside influence from Russia.”
Mario Draghi resigned earlier this month because some parties in the coalition government he was tasked with leading last year when former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned withdrew their support for him. They did so in part because of resistance to some of his reforms.
The former central bank president, often called “Super Mario” and credited with saving the euro, had been seen by many as a safe bet for Italy and Europe in difficult times. But Draghi was not part of all the major political parties. And the Italian political landscape does not remain calm for long. The next government will be the 70th since the Second World War. If the polls are to be believed, it is probably a right-wing coalition.
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Gianluca Paolucci, co-author of ‘Oligars’ and ‘How Putin’s Friends Are Buying Italy’ is not suggesting, as some have speculated, that the Kremlin actually bought the censorship measure. But he says those who arranged Draghi’s death are more sympathetic to Putin and may give him a break in the future. It may not change the trajectory of the war. But that could do a number on European cohesion.
“We all know the relationship between Mr. (Matteo) Salvini and the League and United Russia Party, President Putin’s party,” Paolucci told Fox News. “And about the oligarchs and the far right here. And then there’s the Five Star Movement.”
Paolucci recalled how that party’s leader, then prime minister, invited Russian emergency teams to help manage the COVID pandemic in its early stages, when Italy was hit hard. It turned out that these Russians were not only doctors and sanitary technicians, but members of the army. And the images of them roaming the towns of northern Italy have raised eyebrows.
“It was quite shocking to see this long line of Russian military (vehicles) in Italy,” Paolucci said. “I mean, the whole country was closed at home at the time.”
Experts and polls indicate that the next government will be right wing, probably a coalition. But it is the most far-right party of the grouping that seems set to take the helm.
Giorgia Meloni is the leader of the Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy. And if this party gets the most votes as expected, Meloni will probably be Italy’s first female prime minister. The party insists it will not be easy with Russia. Party officials say they will stand with Europe, NATO and the United States to stand up to Putin as long as this war rages on.
“We strongly condemned the invasion of Russia, and we have a strong sense of belonging and conviction within the Atlantic Alliance,” said Raffaele Fitto of the Brothers of Italy and co-chair of the Conservatives and Reformists Group Europeans in the European Parliament.
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The centre-left PD, the second-strongest single party, is unconvinced that Italy’s Brothers will work well with the country’s European allies on Russia and beyond. The party is accused of being anti-European. Critics say the party grew out of the fascist tradition in that country, but Letta suggests that label may be too simplistic.
“Our election campaign could be an election campaign in which the word ‘fascism’ can be repeated many times,” Letta said this week. “But I think that to win this election, I have to explain to the voters why it is better to vote for us because it is in their own interest in terms of the social dimension, in terms of salaries, jobs and the fight against the climate change.”
The leaders of the Brethren in Italy say that they will effectively defend all these causes – with the exception of fascism, which they call defamation.
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“It’s a party that today has the consent of one in four Italians and probably even more in a month,” said Fitto. “We are a party that has deep roots in democracy, and what we strongly ask (of Italians) is to go and vote to have a government legitimized by the choice of citizens.”
It is citizens – like many around the world – who will ultimately be most concerned about fuel bills, jobs and inflation. Russia plays big in this equation. But this is obviously only one piece of the political puzzle. And of course, Russia will be eagerly awaiting the results of the Italian elections on September 25. Perhaps almost as ardently as the Italians will be.