Italy’s right-wing party leaders congratulate Putin on re-election

Leaders of Italy's right-wing parties were quick to congratulate Russian president Vladimir Putin on his re-election on Sunday, following a vote in which the main opposition leader was barred from running.

Italy's right-wing party leaders congratulate Putin on re-election
Vladimir Putin addresses media at his campaign headquarters on Sunday. Photo: Sergei Chirikov/Pool/AFP

“Good job, president,” wrote Matteo Salvini, who leads the populist League party, on Twitter.

The Lombardy politician had earlier wished the Russian president good luck in the vote, describing Putin as “one of the best political men of our time” and sharing a photo of the pair shaking hands. 

Salvini has visited Moscow several times and last spring signed a 'collaboration agreement' with the deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, on behalf of Putin's United Russia party. He ran in the March general election as part of a right-wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi, who has had a decades-long friendship with Putin and gave the Russian leader a duvet cover with a photo of the pair for his 65th birthday last autumn.

Giorgia Meloni, who leads the junior party in the same coalition, also used social media to congratulate Putin on his victory.

“Congratulations to Vladimir Putin for his fourth election as President of the Russian Federation. The will of the people in this Russian election appears unequivocal,” she wrote.

Putin obtained more than 76 percent of the vote, according to official results, though the independent election watchdog (Movement for Defence of Voters' Rights, or 'Golos') reported irregularities ranging from ballot papers being found in ballot boxes before voting started, to obstruction of cameras in polling stations.

After the victory, Putin's campaign spokesperson Andrei Kondrashov credited British Prime Minister Theresa May with the unexpectedly high turnout, saying: “Every time they accuse us of something unfounded, Russia unites.”

He was referring to heightened tension between the two countries following a nerve agent attack in the UK, which has left a former Russian spy, his daughter, and a police officer who attended the scene seriously ill in hospital.

In the tweet congratulating Putin, Salvini shared a link to a blog post disputing the idea of Russian involvement in the attack.

While the leaders of the US, France and Germany have joined the UK in saying there is “no plausible alternative explanation” to Russian involvement in the attack, Italy's first official statement on the incident made no mention of Russia.

“We are very worried by the affair of Sergei Skripal, which put many human lives at risk, and we express our strong solidarity with the British government and population,” the brief statement issued by the Italian foreign ministry on Thursday evening said. 

“The use of a chemical agent banned by international conventions on UK territory is particularly serious. We are following the international debate on the affair with high attention and will offer our support to every action aimed at guaranteeing security and the respect of international law.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Alfano said any response to the attack should be based on “verifiable proof”.

In a phone call to May on Friday however, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said it was “legitimate” to expect answers from Russia on any possible role in the attack.

Gentiloni confirmed Italy's “full support and solidarity” and agreed on the need for “international co-operation to maintain pressure on Russia”, according to a statement from the British government.




Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.