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UKRAINE

Russian invasion: What has Italy’s response been so far?

From military aid to sanctions, here's how Italy has responded to Russia's war on Ukraine.

Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said Italy is 'ready to take further measures' against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said Italy is 'ready to take further measures' against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Photo by ANSA / AFP.

After Russia launched a full-scale military attack on Ukraine on Thursday, European governments took urgent action, placing heavy economic sanctions on Russia and providing support to Ukraine’s defence forces.

In a speech delivered on Tuesday afternoon, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Italy “does not intend to look the other way” and that he was prepared to “take further restrictive measures” against Russia if necessary.

READ ALSO: Italy ‘ready to take further measures’ against Russia, Draghi says

So what steps has Italy already taken so far? Here’s a summary of the key measures authorised by the Italian government in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

EU Sanctions

As an EU member state, Italy participates in the bloc’s sanctions against Russia. 

These include the closure of EU airspace to Russian-owned and controlled aircraft; the blocking of major Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments system; and a ban on all transactions with the Russian central bank.

The Russian state-owned media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik have been banned from the EU, export controls have been placed on electronic and high-tech goods (in tandem with the US), and there is a ban on selling aircraft parts and other related equipment to Russia.

READ ALSO: Flight bans to visas – what does the EU’s Ukraine response mean for Italy?

Military aid

After initially agreeing on Friday to send ‘non-lethal’ military aid to Ukraine, on Monday Italy’s government voted in favour of sending weapons and military vehicles into the country.

The decision entails waiving a 1990 Italian law on arms exports, which says that Italy’s Constitution “repudiates war as a means of resolving international disputes”, but which can be set aside by a ministerial vote to allow Italy to meet its international obligations.

“The democratically elected government [of Ukraine] must be able to resist the invasion and defend the country’s independence. It is not possible to respond to a nation that is defending itself against a military attack and is asking for help from our democracies merely with encouragement and acts of deterrence,” Draghi said in his parliamentary address on Tuesday.

“Italy is not going to war, it is responding to a request for help to stop Putin and his war,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in defence of the government’s decision in a TV interview on Wednesday morning.

Financial aid

On Sunday, Di Maio announced that he had authorised the immediate transfer of €110 million to the Ukrainian government in an expression of solidarity.

“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 foreign minister wrote in a post on Twitter.

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

In a follow up post to Facebook, he wrote: “At your side my friend Dmytro (Ukraine’s foreign minister), Italy stands in solidarity with Ukraine. The Italian people repudiate the war!”

NATO

On Friday Italy voted to increase its military commitment to NATO by contributing a little over €174 million over the next two years.

The funds will reportedly be used to upgrade NATO’s defence systems and facilities and allow for an increased military presence in Latvia, where 239 Italians were already stationed. 

In his speech on Tuesday, Draghi said that Italy had an initial contingent of 1,400 military personnel on standby and a second unit of 2,000 soldiers ready to go; and that it would double its aircraft patrolling the skies in Romania.

According to national news outlets, the first 1,350 Italian soldiers will be deployed to Romania and Hungary.

State of emergency

Having declared a three-month state of emergency (stato di emergenza) over the situation in Ukraine on Friday, on Monday Italy voted to extend the emergency status until December 31st, 2022.

Declaring a state of emergency creates the conditions for Italy’s parliament to quickly pass emergency decrees without the usual hold ups.

The state of emergency concerning foreign intervention in Ukraine is separate from Italy’s Covid-19 state of emergency, which is still due to end on March 31st.

Refugees

On Tuesday, Draghi spoke of the impending refugee crisis, recognising that hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians have already fled their homeland to seek protection in neighbouring countries.

“We are working to open special corridors for orphaned children, to allow them to safely reach our country as quickly as possible,” he said.

READ ALSO: Italy prepares to receive Ukrainian refugees as first coaches arrive in north

On Monday, Italy’s government reportedly authorised the expansion of Italy’s extraordinary reception centres (CAS) to accommodate 13,000 additional people, and the expansion of its national reception and integration system (SAI) centres by 3,000 spaces, as a preliminary measure.

Ukrainians will be able to stay in the CAS centres regardless of whether or not they have applied for asylum, bypassing the usual rules, reports the Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper.

People sit in a bus for their evacuation in Donetsk on February 19, 2022.
People sit in a bus for their evacuation in Donetsk on February 19, 2022. Photo by AFP.

Oligarchs

In his speech on Tuesday, Draghi announced plans to go after Russian oligarchs and their associates.

“I have proposed to take further targeted measures against oligarchs. The idea is to create an international public register of those with assets of more than 10 million euros,” he said.

Last month, the Brescia prosecutor’s office issued an asset seizure notice to Lanfranco Cirillo, an Italian architect thought to have designed ‘Putin’s Palace’ on the Black Sea. 44 Russian oligarchs are currently under investigation in Brescia, according to the Corriere della Sera news daily.

Energy

On Monday, the Italian government voted to allow Italy to switch to alternative energy sources, including coal, if it faced energy shortages as a result of the war.

Italy is heavily reliant on natural gas and imports 90 percent of its gas supply from abroad, with 45 percent of those imports coming from Russia.

READ ALSO: How will the Russian invasion affect Italy’s gas supplies and prices?

“Preparing for a war economy means that if gas supplies from Russia are interrupted, Italy will have to be ready to restart coal-fired power plants too,” Italy’s undersecretary of state for foreign affairs Manlio Di Stefano told Rai Radio 1 on Monday.

On the same day, Luigi Di Maio met with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to discuss the possibility of increasing Algeria’s gas supplies to Italy.

Protection of Italians abroad

In Friday’s decree, Italy’s parliament reportedly authorised the disbursement of €11 million to support Italy’s foreign embassies, €1 million of which will finance the dispatch of ten carabinieri to guard its most exposed offices and staff. 

On Tuesday, Italy’s foreign ministry announced that it was moving the Italian embassy in Kyiv to Lviv due to the deteriorating security situation in the Ukrainian capital.

According to SkyTG24, the Italian embassy had been sheltering a group of Italians who had found themselves caught in the conflict, as well as 20 minors that the ambassador’s staff transported with them to Lviv.

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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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