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UKRAINE

Italy closes airspace to Russian planes and sends €110 million to Ukraine

Italy on Sunday closed its airspace to Russian aircraft and announced it would send €110 million to Ukraine in a show of solidarity with the invaded country.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday announced that Italy would immediately send €110 million to the Ukrainian government.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday announced that Italy would immediately send €110 million to the Ukrainian government. Photo by SHAMIL ZHUMATOV / POOL / AFP.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio announced the news of the foreign aid package in a tweet published on Sunday morning.

“I’ve informed my colleague @DmytroKuleba that I’ve just signed the resolution that provides for the immediate disbursement of 110 million euros to the government of Kyiv, as a concrete expression of Italy’s solidarity and support for a people with whom we cultivate a fraternal relationship,” the post reads.

At 3pm on Sunday, Italy joined countries including Canada, France, the UK, Germany and Spain in closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an EU-wide ban on all Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft.

On Monday morning the Italian foreign ministry urged its citizens to leave Russia by any commercial means available.

 “In view of this measure and possible further restrictions in the next few hours, it is strongly recommended that compatriots present in the country on a temporary basis… make timely arrangements to return to Italy,” the foreign ministry said.

“Tourists, students, business travellers and the like” should return “by the commercial means still available”.

Italy also recommended that “all travel to the Russian Federation be postponed”.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Sunday reiterated Italy’s support for EU sanctions against Russia, which also entail excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments system.

“Italy gives its full backing to the measures against the Russian Federation presented today by the European Commission,” Draghi said in a statement published by his office.

READ ALSO: Swift banking: How would Italy’s ban sanction Russia?

In the same statement, the prime minister urged the European Union to react with the “utmost determination” to Russia’s “barbaric” aggression, calling Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine a “threat to the whole of Europe”.

On Friday, Italy’s parliament declared a three-month state of emergency for foreign intervention over the war in Ukraine and issued a decree authorising urgent measures to be taken in response to the invasion, Italian news outlets reported.

The ‘Ukraine decree’ – the text of which has yet to be published – primarily provides for the allocation of funds and resources to reinforce Europe’s defences and protect Italians abroad.

These include the authorisation of €174.4 million to upgrade NATO’s defence systems and €11 million to support Italy’s foreign embassies, reports the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

€1 million of the €11 million will finance the dispatch of ten carabinieri to guard the country’s most exposed offices and staff, according to the same source.

The Repubblica news daily reports that the decree also provides for the deployment of Italian soldiers to Latvia, Romania and the Black Sea; and authorises the transfer of non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine. 

The declaration of a state of emergency, or stato di emergenza, creates the conditions that allow Italy’s parliament to quickly pass emergency laws such as this one.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

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

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi was forced to clarify on Friday remarks about long-time friend Vladimir Putin after saying the Russian leader was "pushed" into a "special operation".

Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin's invasion of Ukraine

The sympathetic remarks caused outrage and concern as the 85-year-old former prime minister’s party is expected to return to power following Italian general elections on Sunday as a partner in a government led by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy.

“Putin has fallen into a truly difficult and dramatic situation,” Berlusconi told Rai television late on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote

Berlusconi, who is known for his longstanding friendship with Russia’s president, described Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation”.

He said Putin was “pushed” into it by “the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers”

Russian troops were supposed to enter Kyiv and “replace the Zelensky government with decent people,” Berlusoni added.

“Instead they found an unexpected resistance which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West.”

His comments sparked an outcry in Italy, prompting the former premier to insist he was misunderstood and had just been reporting what others had said.

READ ALSO: Italy’s newspapers warn of Russian ‘interference’ in election

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable,” he said in a statement on Friday, offering his support for the EU and NATO.

Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, called his comments “scandalous”.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer on Friday said the EC had no comment on Berlusconi’s statement.

The other member of his alliance with Meloni, League leader Matteo Salvini, has often expressed admiration for the Russian president and recently criticised EU sanctions.

Meloni insists that she strongly supports the policy of the outgoing Italian government in sending weapons to Ukraine and backing Western sanctions against Russia.

However, Meloni is known for changing her political stance and, like Berlusconi and Salvini, in 2014 said that she supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

His statement sparked fears that the new government would change Italy’s stance on Russia, returning to friendly relations with Moscow – as had long been the case under a series of governments before Mario Draghi became PM in 2021.

READ ALSO: Berlusconi’s messy break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

Draghi is strongly in favour of NATO, the EU, and sanctions over Ukraine, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But some of Italy’s major parties – Forza Italia, the League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – have long pursued a special relationship with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and has long maintained close business and political ties with Russia.

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