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.




Far right set to take power in Italy after topping vote, exit polls show

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni came top in Italian elections on Sunday, exit polls suggested, putting her eurosceptic populists on course to take power at the heart of Europe.

Far right set to take power in Italy after topping vote, exit polls show

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, has never held office but looks set to form Italy’s most far-right government since the fall of dictator Benito Mussolini during World War II.

Exit polls published by the Rai public broadcaster and Quorum/YouTrend both put Brothers of Italy on top, at between 22 and 26 percent of the vote.

BLOG: Italian election exit polls suggest victory for Giorgia Meloni

Her allies, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, lagged behind but between them appear to have enough seats to secure a majority in both houses of parliament.

The result must still be confirmed but risks fresh trouble for the European Union, just weeks after the far-right outperformed in elections in Sweden.

Meloni, who campaigned on a motto of “God, country and family”, has abandoned her calls for one of Europe’s biggest economies to leave the eurozone, but says Rome must assert its interests more in Brussels.

“Today you can participate in writing history,” the 45-year-old tweeted before the polls closed.

Turnout was lower than in the 2018 elections.

Meloni had been leading opinion polls since Prime Minister Mario Draghi called snap elections in July following the collapse of his national unity government.

Hers was the only party not to join Draghi’s coalition when, in February 2021, the former European Central Bank chief was parachuted in to lead a country still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

For many voters, Meloni was “the novelty, the only leader the Italians have not yet tried”, Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy told AFP before the election.

But the self-declared “Christian mother” – whose experience of government has been limited to a stint as a minister in Berlusconi’s 2008 government – has huge challenges ahead.

Like much of Europe, Italy is suffering rampant inflation while an energy crisis looms this winter, linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, is also saddled with a debt worth 150 percent of gross domestic product.

‘Limited room for manoeuvre’

Brothers of Italy has roots in the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of Benito Mussolini, and Meloni herself praised the dictator when she was young.

She has sought to distance herself from the past as she built up her party into a political force, going from just four percent of the vote in 2018 to Sunday’s triumph.

Her coalition campaigned on a platform of low taxes, an end to mass immigration, Catholic family values and an assertion of Italy’s nationalist interests abroad.

They want to renegotiate the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing that the almost 200 billion euros Italy is set to receive should take into account the energy crisis.

But “Italy cannot afford to be deprived of these sums”, political sociologist Marc Lazar told AFP, which means Meloni actually has “very limited room for manoeuvre”.

The funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by Draghi.

 Ukraine support

Despite her euroscepticism, Meloni strongly supports the EU’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, although her allies are another matter.

Berlusconi, the billionaire former premier who has long been friends with Vladimir Putin, faced an outcry this week after suggesting the Russian president was “pushed” into war by his entourage.

It is only one area in which Meloni and her allies do not see eye to eye, leading some analysts to predict that their coalition may not last long.

EXPLAINED: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

Italian politics is historically unstable, with almost 70 governments since 1946.

A straight-speaking Roman raised by a single mother in a working-class neighbourhood, Meloni rails against what she calls “LGBT lobbies”, “woke ideology” and “the violence of Islam”.

She has vowed to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on Italy’s shores each year, a position she shares with Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking charity rescue ships when he was interior minister in 2019.

The centre-left Democratic Party claimed her government would pose a serious risk to hard-won rights such as abortion and will ignore global warming, despite Italy being on the front line of the climate emergency.