Italy's far-right leader to meet Putin in January

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Italy's far-right leader to meet Putin in January
Matteo Salvini, head of the eurosceptic Northern League, will reportedly meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in January. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right Northern League, will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in January, La Repubblica reported.


Following in the footsteps of his French counterpart, Marine Le Pen, Salvini will travel to Moscow with Gianluca Savoini, the president of Lombardy-Russia, which describes itself as a cultural association whose views are in line with Putin’s on “identity, sovereignty and tradition”.

The pair hope to build relations with a view to reducing the impact of Russian sanctions on Italy’s economy.

In August, the Russian government announced a year-long ban on food imports from the EU, US and other countries, in response to sanctions against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

Salvini denied that his Northern League party, which is wooing recession-weary voters in Italy on an anti-immigration, anti-euro and overtly anti-Muslim platform, is courting Russia for funding.

Le Pen’s National Front last week admitted that it received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank close to Putin.

“We have not received even a euro,” Salvini said in an interview published on Wednesday with the magazine, Oggi, for which he posed bare-chested, under a duvet, wearing a green tie. 

“Our relationship is political, cultural and commercial. Together with Lombardy-Russia, our focus is the interests of farmers and Italian exporters in crisis.”

The January meeting follows an unsuccessful attempt by Salvini to meet Putin during a trip to Moscow in October. At the time, Salvini praised the country for “having no Roma community or illegal immigrants.”

As Silvio Berlusconi’s popularity dwindles, Salvini has been winning voters from the former premier's Forza Italia party, while former members of centre-right parties in the south are joining the Northern League.

This falls in line with Salvini's aim to extend the League's influence and appeal from the wealthy north of the country to the much poorer south, from where media tycoon Berlusconi traditionally drew much of his support.

In the interview with Oggi, entitled ‘Would you trust this man with Italy?’ Salvini said he wanted to give the country “an alternative to Renzi”.

Meanwhile, other far-right leaders across Europe have also been wooing Russia.

In November, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, visited Moscow for a discussion on “overcoming the crisis in Europe”.

The trip came amid speculation as to whether the party might have also received financial support from Russia, after a Moscow strategy paper seen by German media revealed that Putin has been advised to influence Europe through right-wing populist parties. 

READ MORE HERE: Austria's far-right 'courting' Russia

Peter Kreko of the Budapest-based Political Capital think-tank told The Local Sweden last month: “What we’re seeing across Europe is Russia’s desire to destabilise the EU and its member states."

READ MORE HERE: Is Putin trying to buy up Europe’s nationalists?


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