“Brothers of Italy” on the threshold of power. Is it too early for Putin to rejoice? – DW – 24/09/2022

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

Italy faces a political earthquake. In the snap parliamentary elections on September 25, the party of the Brothers of Italy is considered the favorite, the media has called the far-right and some even post-fascist. Polls predict her more than 25 percent of the vote.

Its leader, George Meloni, 45, could lead a coalition government of three right-wing parties. The circumstances of their possible come to powerthe proximity of some figures to Russia and the potential negative impact on the European Union resonated during the election campaign.

Meloni backed sanctions against Russia

The Brothers of Italy are a relatively new party founded in 2012. One of its predecessors was neo-fascist. The “Brothers of Italy” hold to right-wing conservative nationalist views, there is no information about his ties to Russia, but it is known about contacts with the US Republican Party. George Meloni calls himself a NATO supporter and supports EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Posters of possible partners in government: “League”, “Brothers of Italy” and “Forward Italy”Photo: Andrea Ronchini/Pacific Press Agency/IMAGO

Meloni’s likely partners – the far-right League party (formerly the League of the North) and the center-right Forward, Italy Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – long-term relations with Moscow. In the elections they can achieve 12 and 8 percent respectively. The expected total result of the three right-wing parties is around 45 percent. Against this background, when the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi collapsed in Italy in July, the European press wondered whether Russia could be behind this and whether President Vladimir Putin had reason to rejoice.

In Italy itself, the debate flared up with renewed vigor after the US State Department reported in September that Moscow had spent “at least $300 million” since 2014 to influence politics and public opinion in two dozen countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. to influence. Specific countries were not mentioned. In Italy, local parties said they had not received any money from Moscow. This was announced by outgoing Prime Minister Draghi himself shortly before the elections. According to him, he personally spoke to the head of the foreign ministry, Ethnoni Blinken, and assured that Italy was not on the list of countries receiving Russian money.

Putin on a Salvini T-shirt

There is no proof, Natalie Tocci, director of the Institute of International Relations in Rome, agrees in an interview with DW. “The fact is that the three parties whose actions led to the fall of Draghi’s government are those with the closest ties to the Kremlin – the Five Star Movement, the League and Forward Italia. And Draghi, Tocci added, “is no friend of the Kremlin and supported the prospect of Ukraine’s EU membership and sanctions against Russia” after the open invasion of Ukraine. In June, Draghi traveled with the leaders of Germany and France to Kiev.

Matteo Salvini in Moscow, November 2016Photo: Ivan Sekretarev/AP/photo alliance

Success in the parliamentary elections and the coming to power of the League and Forward Italia could “please the Kremlin,” Tocci suggests. Both sides had contacts with the Russian Federation at different levels. “League” signed a cooperation agreement with “United Russia” in 2017, and its head Matteo Salvinic more than once admired the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and was photographed in a T-shirt with his image and the inscription “Army of Russia”.

Attacker Italy leader Silvio Berlusconi had friendly relations with the owner of the Kremlin. Shortly before voting day, the 85-year-old former prime minister, who distanced himself from Putin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, resonated with a statement that the Russian president had been “pushed” into war by “the people of Russia, the party, its ministers.” .”

Share of pro-Russian parties in parliament decreases

“If you look at all those Russian connections from the other side, I’m not really worried,” says Natalie Tocci. According to her, the Kremlin’s joy may be premature: “Pro-Russian parties will be much less represented in the new parliament.” According to Tocci, such parties now have a total of about 60 percent of the mandates, and that could be half.

Meloni and Salvini at one of the rallies, October 2019Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

This is mainly due to the loss of popularity of the Five Star Movement, whose rating has fallen from 33 percent in the 2018 election to 13 percent, according to the latest polls. Liga and Forward Italia also lost four to seven percentage points. “Italy is a parliamentary republic,” emphasizes Tocci. “Another question is how many pro-Russian parties will influence the entire government, in which the Brothers of Italy will be the strongest party.

Aldo Ferrari, director of the Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia studies program at the Institute of International Political Studies (ISPI) in Milan, said Salvini and Berlusconi’s ties to Moscow should not be overstated. And reminds me that from Italy – decades of close relations with Moscow, there are pro-Russian sentiments in society, including among the Italian right. But their partnership with the Russian Federation is not substantive and “there is no evidence of financial support from Russia,” Ferrari said in an interview with DW.

Experts: position on sanctions does not change

If the parties Salvini and Berlusconi join the new government led by Meloni, he said no change in Italy’s position on Russia and the weakening of Kiev’s support by Rome should be expected. The political scientist believes that neither the pro-Russian parties nor Italy, as a member of the EU, have political weight to question EU sanctions against the Russian Federation or the supply of arms to Kiev. Ferrari recalled that during the previous election campaign, Salvini called for the lifting of sanctions against Moscow, but when he came to power “did nothing in this direction”.

Salvini, Meloni and Berlusconi, October 2021Photo: GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/REUTERS

Natalie Tocci adds that much will depend on the outcome of the vote. “If Meloni’s party gets about 30 percent and the League about 10 percent, I’m sure no one will question the sanctions and arms supply. If the situation is worse for the Brothers of Italy and better for the League, ask are possible,” explains Tocci. According to her, the head of the “League” Salvini, although he supported the sanctions, increasingly began to say that they harm the West more than Russia.

Italy will follow the path of Hungary?

It also matters how the war in Ukraine develops, continues Natalie Tocci. According to her, the effectiveness of arms supplies and sanctions is becoming increasingly clear, and it is increasingly difficult to resist them: “I do not see that Italy under the new government will change course with regard to the war in Ukraine.” Aldo Ferrari gives a similar prediction.

According to him, among the far-right voters there are those who sympathize with “strong leaders like Putin, but that is not enough for a different policy towards Russia”. While pro-Russian sentiments are strong in Italian society, also because of the negative impact of sanctions on the economy, Ferrari notes that such sentiments have no political representation – “all parties support Ukraine.”

Another thing is relations within the EU. Complications are not excluded here and that could play into the Kremlin’s hands, the European press writes. Is Italy getting closer to Hungary? Victor Orban, who recently called for the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation? Tocci says the Brothers of Italy are pro-Atlantic cooperation and Eurosceptics, but Italy as a country cannot afford to be left alone in the EU, as is the case with Hungary. Therefore, she predicts that after she becomes prime minister, Meloni will be “interested in having friends besides Orban.”

Also see:

Matteo Salvini and his right-wing populist alliance

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Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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