The fact that Italy’s right-wing extremist Lega has good and financial relations with Putin’s Russia came as no surprise and was announced by the Russian embassy in Rome itself in early summer. In 2017, party leader Matteo Salvini even signed an agreement with Putin’s party, and he openly admires the ruler in Moscow. But is Putin also behind the fall of the Draghi government? And did the Lega get involved?
At least that’s what the Turin newspaper “La Stampa” claimed a few days ago, citing secret service documents. They show that at the end of May Oleg Kostyukov from the political department of the embassy in Rome contacted an emissary of Salvini and asked whether his ministers in the government were prepared to overthrow Draghi. It was the very Lega contact, Antonio Capuano, who arranged his boss’s flight to Moscow in May. When it came out that Salvini wanted to do secondary foreign policy bypassing the Foreign Ministry, he had to cancel the tour – Salvini praised it as a “peace mission”.
It was only afterwards that it came out that the plane tickets for him and his entourage did not have to be paid for by the party treasury. Russia’s ambassador in Rome had bought them, which he himself made public.
The topic was a hit with everyone in the election campaign for the early parliamentary elections on September 25, which had just started. The centre-left camp, which is currently gathering around the social democratic Partito democratico (PD), called for clarification. PD leader Enrico Letta and his old enemy and predecessor Matteo Renzi were able to demonstrate fresh unanimity. According to Letta, Salvini must disclose the relationship between the Kremlin and his party. “We want to know whether it was Putin who overthrew the Draghi government.” Together with Renzi, Letta called for an “immediate investigation” by the intelligence commission of the House of Representatives.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, co-founder of the Five Star Movement, who set up his own business weeks ago with a number of his followers, took the opportunity to give the current star boss Giuseppe Conte one thing: Russian interference is a problem overall – Ambassador Razov is already pleased with Conte’s no to arms sales for Ukraine.
Salvini, in the eye of the storm, demonstrated composure and left his defense to others. Draghi’s independent State Secretary Franco Gabrielli, himself a former secret service chief and in charge of the services for a year, at least denied that anything had been leaked to the press from there. And in the legal camp, Berlusconi’s party organizer Antonio Tajani was outraged that it was about more than Salvini. Center-left wants to slander the whole right-wing coalition because “they know we’re going to win”.
The waves have since calmed down, Salvini demonstratively devotes himself to spreading his election messages: tax breaks, the fight against immigration and the revival of nuclear power, which Italy abolished by referendum in 1987 after the Chernobyl disaster.
Parliament has already received information from the secret services three times in the last few months that Russia is trying to get involved, but there are no indications that this has been successful and that national security is threatened. It is therefore extremely questionable whether the appearance of the secret service coordinator, Elisabetta Belloni, this week in Parliament will bring further insights.
So far, the question of the benefit that Draghi’s fall would have brought Moscow has also remained unanswered. If the poll numbers, which have hardly changed for a long time, are not deceptive, it only accelerates the victory of the right-wing camp, which has long been considered the most likely winner of the next election. Instead of in the spring, elections will now be held six months earlier – and then an alliance will probably govern Italy in which Putin fan Salvini may not play the main role, but he will play an important role.
Georgia Meloni, party leader of the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia collection, has now far outperformed the once strong man on the right and could become Italy’s first female prime minister. Last weekend, your party leadership swore you to a clearly Western course: The “Italy’s brothers” would be “unambiguously guarantors of Italy’s commitment to the West”. She also promised “absolute support for the heroic struggle of the Ukrainian people”. An Italy that she and the right-wing camp led would “be internationally reliable”.
Meloni even forbade flirting with fascism: Anyone who thinks he can provide the left with excuses to “brand us as nostalgic when we are building a large conservative party should know that he is wrong with us” and a “traitor”.
Now the dissatisfaction of the die-hards and the new fascists was precisely the motive for founding “Fratelli d’Italia” ten years ago. They felt politically orphaned by the liberal-conservative turn of the forerunner “Alleanza nazionale”. AN boss Gianfranco Fini even went so far as to describe fascism as “absolute evil” during a visit to Israel. Meloni and her family jumped into the ideological gap. It remains to be seen whether Meloni’s strong words – about the West and fascism – are more than PR.