Two days after the Russian “partial” military mobilization, Berlusconi (at the apex of Italian elections) has made a political U-turn in support of long-term ally Vladimir Putin.
This is in complete opposition to his earlier position on the Russian invasion of just a few months ago. His new statements pose new questions on the foreign policy position of the “centre” right coalition of Berlusconi, Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini, and on Italy's reliability with respect to their support for EU, NATO and democratic values.
Here's what Foreign policy reported just 3 weeks ago:
- “...Berlusconi has been an ardent supporter of Putin and a self-proclaimed friend in what has been widely described as a political bromance.” When he was prime minster, for example, Berlusconi invited the Russian leader to his notorious sex parties… Both Salvini and Berlusconi have been exculpatory about Putin and his brutal war in Ukraine, and they have publicly criticized sanctions against Russia.
- Rumors have swirled around Salvini since 2019, when an audio recording purportedly showed his party was pursuing Russian financing…The Italian Parliament has launched an investigation into Russian disinformation campaigns and the prominent platforms given to Russian officials in Italian newspapers and media, including those owned by Berlusconi."
Berlusconi's political U-turn was not the first red flag coming from his coalition during the campaign:
- “The League’s leader Salvini, long an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, questions the value of sanctions, bewailing the sacrifices ordinary Italians have been making in terms of soaring energy prices.”
Such statements and positions from right-wing coalition members offer competing political parties an opening. Politico reported:
- Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio from the rival Together for the Future party argued that Salvini is opposing sanctions in order to “do [Vladimir] Putin a favor."
- “Enrico Letta, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, also accused Salvini on Twitter Saturday of doing Putin's work, referring to a video of Salvini arguing that sanctions hurt Italy more than Russia. “I don’t think Putin could have said it better," Letta said.”
PartIto Democratico's leader, Enrico Letta, has more than once voiced his concern about Russian interference in Italian elections, alleging that the League has not cut ties with the United Russia party that supports Putin.
And there is much in Matteo Salvini 's political history that raises grave concerns about his support for Vladimir Putin:
- Salvini, whose party polls at 13 percent, has supported Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. In 2017, the League signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party.”
- In 2019, the League was accused of receiving money from Russian investors, after an audio recording emerged of one of his close aides discussing an oil deal with three unidentified Russians.
- A week ahead of the Italian elections, a US State Department intelligence assessment claimed Russia has given at least $300 million to political parties sympathetic to Putin in more than two dozen countries, including in Europe. The report does not name the countries or the parties concerned, but it made headlines for the way it could possibly interfere with the upcoming election.
In the early 2000s, Berlusconi was the only Italian ally Putin could count on. Now the sItuation is dIfferent, as Putin has been able to expand his network. And his supporters are more outspoken:
- Putin has fallen into a truly difficult and dramatic situation,” Berlusconi told Rai television late on Thursday. Berlusconi, who is known for his longstanding friendship with Russia’s president, described Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation”. He said Putin was “pushed” into it by “the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers. ”Russian troops were supposed to enter Kyiv and “replace the Zelensky government with decent people,” Berlusoni added.
- “Meloni is known for changing her political stance and, like Berlusconi and Salvini, in 2014 said that she supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”
- And more generally: ...some of Italy’s major parties – Forza Italia, the League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – have long pursued a special relationship with Moscow.