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POLITICS

Russia begins withdrawing military virus experts from Italy

Russia on Thursday began withdrawing military experts and medics sent to Italy during the height of the coronavirus pandemic as part of an aid effort that critics said carried political overtones.

Russia begins withdrawing military virus experts from Italy
Russian Army specialists in Lombardy, Italy, on April 28th. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

an”We will begin the pullout of radiation, chemical and biological protection units from Italy,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of military leaders on Wednesday.

He said the military would host a ceremony to mark their return and asked for “proposals for the promotion of distinguished military personnel, doctors and all those who were involved in disinfection in cities and facilities in Italy”.

Russia has sent military planes with specialists and equipment to countries including Italy, China and the United States, gestures that have prompted criticism from some Russians over using crucial resources for geopolitical aims.

Moscow said in March when the programme began that the aid for Italy included protective equipment and about 100 virus specialists with experience dealing with Ebola and swine fever.

et Italian media reported that much of the equipment was not useful in the fight against the virus, sparking a diplomatic spat.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Italy in July last year and has often spoken of his long friendship with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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