"Russia In The World" is a MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project review of Russia's geopolitical interests and areas of penetration. This installment will deal with Russia-Italy relations.
The original image was taken from Studiya 13's Facebook page.
Salvini sports a Putin T-shirt in Moscow (Source: Dagospia.it)
Italian Prime Minister Conte: Sanctions Against Russia "Are Threatening To Mortify Russian Civil Society"
The 2018 Italian general election was held March 4, 2018. On May 31, 2018, following 88 days of negotiations and several impasses, the right-wing populist Northern League and populist Five Star Movement (M5S) supported the appointment of law professor Giuseppe Conte as the new prime minister.
On June 5, Prime Minister Conte, in his first speech to the Senate, outlined his government's policy. The Italian Senate approved his government 171-117, with 25 abstentions. On June 6, the Italian Parliament approved his government 350-236, with 35 abstentions.
In his speech, Conte said that his government will support the revision of the sanctions against Russia: "First of all, we intend to reiterate that we are deeply convinced that our country should belong to the Atlantic Alliance, with the U.S. as a privileged partner.
"We will also favor rapprochement with Russia, which, in the last few years, has been consolidating its international role in different geopolitical crises. We will also foster a revision of the system of sanctions, beginning with those that are threatening to mortify Russian civil society."
(Ilpost.it, June 6, 2018)
Left to right: M5S leader Luigi Di Maio, Italian Prime Minister Conte, Northern League leader Matteo Salvini. (Source: Ilfaroonline.it)
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg On Prime Minister Conte's Statements: Sanctions Against Russia Can Be Lifted Only When Moscow Changes Its Behavior
Commenting on Italian Prime Minister Conte's words, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that sanctions against Russia can be lifted only if Russia "change[s its] behavior."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (Source: Nato.int)
QUESTION [ANSA]: "ANSA, Italy. Yesterday, the Italian Prime Minister, in a speech from the parliament, said that Italy is a committed Ally... member of the Alliance with the U.S. as the privileged Ally. But he also said that we will support an opening up of relationships with Russia and maybe promote revision of the sanctions. Can you comment on it, please?"
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: "First of all, I'd like to congratulate the new Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Conte, on his appointment. I look forward to working with him and I hope to meet him soon.
"Second, Italy is a committed and highly valued Ally. Italy contributes to our shared security and to our collectives defense in many different ways. They are one of the lead nations in Afghanistan. Italy is playing a key role also when it comes to addressing the challenges we see to the south of the Alliance. And Italy is hosting many important NATO facilities, including the Joint Force Command in Naples and the Sigonella base in Sicily, where we're going to base our new surveillance drones soon. So Italy is an important NATO Ally and I welcome the commitment by the new prime minister to our Alliance.
"When it comes to Russia, I think it is important to highlight that NATO has what we call a dual-track approach to Russia, which is about that we need strong deterrence and strong defense combined with political dialogue, because we are not aiming to isolate Russia. Russia is our neighbor, Russia is here to stay, and therefore I also welcome the strong support of Italy to the dialogue we are having with Russia. Just last week we had a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, at which we addressed Ukraine, military transparency, and many other issues. But I think it is important to continue this dialogue. The dialogue with Russia is not easy; that's exactly why it is so important. The economic sanctions... I think the economic sanctions are important because they send a clear message that what Russia has done in Ukraine has to have consequences and Russia has to change behavior before the sanctions should be lifted."
(Nato.int, June 6, 2018)
The New Italian Government
The new Italian government is a coalition between the Northern League and the Five Stars Movement. Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, who is Italian deputy prime minister as well as interior minister, is a vocal Kremlin supporter.
Five Stars Movement (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio is also deputy prime minister as well as minister of economic development, labor and social policies. M5S supports dialogue with Russia.
Commenting on Di Maio, Russian political analyst Oleg Barabanov, who is program director of the Valdai Discussion Club, professor of MGIMO University, and professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, stated:
"Luigi Di Maio has posed a very simple and yet extremely difficult question to both his country and the whole of Europe: Is democracy real in the EU and will politicians respect the popular will? In so doing, he has clearly positioned himself as Italy's leading politician of the moment and the future."
(Valdaiclub.com, June 1, 2018)
Russian political analyst Alexander Dunaev further commented: "Italy has always treated Russia with benevolence, and the new government can take positive steps and contribute to the revision of the European policy towards Russia."
(Valdaiclub.com, June 5, 2018)
Di Maio with Italian PM Conte (Source: Valdaiclub.com)
United Russia-Northern League Relations – Facts:
On March 6, 2017, the Northern League signed an agreement of cooperation with United Russia in Moscow. It was signed by Northern League leader Matteo Salvini and Sergey Zheleznyak, deputy secretary of the General Council of the United Russia party.
- Zheleznyak said that the Northern League and United Russia are in regular contact and exchange views on issues of concern. They hold meetings and discussions and members of the Northern League visit Russia. (See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7285, Russia In The World – Russia And The Italian Elections, January 18, 2018)
The day the agreement was signed, Salvini met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The meeting was described by the Italian proLeague media outlet Ilpopulista.it as "historical" for Salvini. (See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7285, Russia In The World – Russia And The Italian Elections, January 18, 2018)
Northern League leader Matteo Salvini announced the signing of the "historic agreement" between his party and United Russia, represented by Zheleznyak. (Source: Twitter.com/matteosalvinimi, March 6, 2017)
Matteo Salvini and Sergey Lavrov (Source: Ilpopulista.it)
Russian Anti-Liberal Philosopher Dugin Interviews Salvini – Salvini: The "Absent Recognition Of Crimea" Is "Madness"
In 2016, Russian anti-liberal philosopher Aleksander Dugin interviewed Salvini. In the interview, Salvini stressed that he hopes that sanctions against Russia would be lifted soon. He added that the "absent recognition of Crimea" is "madness."
Below are excerpts of the interview:
Alexander Dugin: "Is it possible that the European Union will be completely dismembered?"
Mr. Salvini: "The EU, being an unnatural structure, has already started crumbling. The European Union is a cell, the opposite of democracy, the opposite of the culture of labor. The euro is clearly an erroneous coin. The European Union is not an example in terms of the application of democratic principles. Therefore nations are regaining their sovereignty."
Alexander Dugin: "This is very important because liberals and globalists accuse us of populism. Perhaps for them the concept of 'populism' has a negative value, but it is positive for us, because populism means being with the people, being a friend of the people."
Mr. Salvini: "I have a t-shirt with the inscription 'I am a populist.' This is some kind of 'voluntary surrender,' but I am proud of such a 'fault'."
Alexander Dugin: "Your t-shirt with Putin's picture is also famous."
Mr. Salvini: "Yes, I wore it in the hall of the European Parliament during a session in Strasbourg, prompting a flurry of controversy."
Alexander Dugin: "Thank you, Mr. Salvini, for this interview. We know that you are a true friend of the Russian people, our President, and these friendly feelings are mutual."
Mr. Salvini: "I'm interested in good, friendly relations. Today, before coming to you, I met with several Italian entrepreneurs – one is from Rome, the other from Como, the third from Florence, all who want to work with you because there is mutual respect and appreciation for one other and the freedom of trade and commercial activities. I try to contribute to the rapprochement between our two countries."
Alexander Dugin: "I express my appreciation for your efforts to lift the sanctions against Russia."
Mr. Salvini: "I hope that they will soon be lifted. This is madness, just like the absent recognition of Crimea, a subject which identified itself as part of Russia. It is incredible that international bodies decide who can vote for self-determination and who doesn't have this right."
Alexander Dugin: "Thank you. With such a leader as you, we can hope that Italy will be free, sovereign, and owned by the Italian people."
Mr. Salvini: "In the name of the people."
Alexander Dugin: "In the name of the people. Thank you."
(Defenddemocracy.press, December 2, 2016)
M5S-United Russia Relations – Facts:
In June 2016, M5S MP Manlio Di Stefano addressed the congress of the ruling United Russia as a guest speakers. Di Stefano recounted: "We have good relations with Russia and, just to provide an idea of how we are held in high esteem, I was the third speaker... I said that NATO's eastward enlargement can create great problems and I reiterated the necessity of putting an end to the sanctions against Moscow." (See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7285, Russia In The World – Russia And The Italian Elections, January 18, 2018)
Commenting on M5S, Sergey Zheleznyak, deputy secretary of the General Council of the United Russia party, said that United Russia is "open" to cooperation with M5S. Zheleznyak said: "We respect the activities of M5S and we are ready to develop our relations to the extent that will match the interests of both parties." It should be noted that M5S did not sign any agreement with United Russia. (See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7285, Russia In The World – Russia And The Italian Elections, January 18, 2018)