‘A waste of time’: Talks with Putin go nowhere, says Italy’s PM

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Sunday that the diplomatic efforts by the West to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt the war in Ukraine had so far achieved nothing.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi leaves after a speech on the Ukraine situation in Rome's Palazzo Chigi on February 24, 2022, after Russia's ground forces invaded Ukraine.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said that talks with Putin haven't been effective so far. Photo by Remo Casilli / POOL / AFP.

“I am beginning to think that those people are right when they say ‘It is useless to talk to him, it’s just a waste of time’,” Draghi told Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.

Draghi said he had always felt French President Emmanuel Macron, who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, “is right to try every possible avenue of dialogue.

“But I have the impression that the horror of the war with its carnage, with what they have done to children and women, is completely independent of the words and phone calls that are made,” the Italian leader said.

So far, Putin’s goal had not been the search for peace, “but the attempt to annihilate the Ukrainian resistance, occupy the country and entrust it to a friendly government,” Draghi continued.

Draghi spoke with Putin in recent days about achieving peace.

“I asked him: ‘When are you meeting (Ukraine president) Zelensky? Only you two can untie the knots’. He replied: ‘The time is not now’. I insisted: ‘Decide on a ceasefire’. Again, ‘No: the time is not now’.”

Like many others at the beginning of the conflict, Draghi had thought a quick victory for the Russians was likely.

READ ALSO: ‘Peace or air conditioning?’ Italy vows to follow EU on Russian gas embargo

“This did not happen: the victory did not come and we do not know if it will ever come. The Ukrainian resistance is heroic,” Draghi said.

Draghi’s comments follow the discovery of mass graves in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, recently occupied by the Russian army. Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

“What awaits us is a war of resistance, prolonged violence with destruction that will continue. There is no sign that the Ukrainian people can accept the Russian occupation.”

Speaking of the atrocities in Bucha, where civilians were left dead in the street, Draghi was cautious to label what Russian troops committed there – as are other European leaders such as Spain’s prime minister who saw possible ‘genocide’ in Ukraine.

“What do we want to call the horror of Bucha if not war crimes? But I understand that terms like ‘genocide’ or ‘war crimes’ have a precise legal meaning,” he said.

“There will be a way and time to verify which words best suit the inhuman acts of the Russian army,” Draghi added.

Draghi’s comments came after Italy said it would reopen its Ukrainian embassy in Kyiv from Monday.

The Ukraine war has sparked a Western push for sanctions against Moscow, including moves to drastically cut purchases of Russian gas.

READ ALSO: Italy rejects Russian demand for gas payment in rubles

The Italian government has taken steps to reduce reliance on Russia, such as signing a gas deal with Algeria.

Draghi said that while economic sanctions against Russia were “essential to weaken the aggressor,”  they would not necessarily stop the war in the short term.

Nevertheless, the West could help Ukraine directly by supplying weapons.

“We need to help the Ukrainians directly, and that is what we are doing. Not doing so would be tantamount to telling them: surrender, accept slavery and submission – a message contrary to our European values of solidarity,” Draghi said.

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Will Italy’s Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

After the largest party in Italy's coalition government imploded over the country's response to the Ukraine war, Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday called for unity. Is another political crisis on the horizon?

Will Italy's Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

Draghi has taken a firm, pro-EU line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: sending weapons to Kyiv, backing sanctions on Moscow despite Italy’s heavy reliance on Russian gas, and supporting Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union.

But there have been rumblings of unease within his coalition government, which burst into the open on Tuesday with a split in parliament’s biggest party, the Five Star Movement.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving the party amid disagreements over how Italy should respond to the Ukraine war.

An estimated 60 lawmakers are following him into his breakaway group, named “Together for the Future” – just over a quarter of Five Star’s MPs.

READ ALSO: Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

The move risks upsetting the fragile balance of power in Draghi’s coalition government, a year before general elections are due and at a difficult time for Italians battling skyrocketing inflation.

A vote on Wednesday suggested parliament still overwhelmingly backs the premier, with the lower Chamber of Deputies approving by 410 to 29 a resolution supporting the Ukraine policy.

The Senate similarly approved it on Tuesday.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“Unity is essential in these moments because the decisions that must be taken are very difficult,” Draghi said before Wednesday’s result, which came one day before an EU summit in Brussels begins.

In an uncharacteristically combative address to deputies, Draghi accused those who disagreed with his policy of effectively calling on Kyiv to surrender.

“There is a fundamental difference between two points of view. One is mine – Ukraine must defend itself, and sanctions and the sending of weapons serve this goal,” Draghi said to applause.

“The other point of view is different. Ukraine must not defend itself, we shouldn’t do sanctions, we shouldn’t send armaments, Russia is too strong, why should we take her on, let Ukraine submit.”

Di Maio had made a similar attack on members of his own party at the weekend, paving the way for Tuesday’s defection.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte, the country’s former premier, has argued that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution, warning against getting involved in an escalating arms race.

Conte and Di Maio have been at odds since long before the war, however.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte stressed that his party still backed the coalition, saying: “Support for Draghi is not up for discussion.”

Nevertheless, some commentators believe Draghi’s coalition government – involving all main political parties except the far-right Brothers of Italy – will start to splinter ahead of 2023 elections.

The Five Star split is likely to weigh on “the entire political system, starting with Draghi, who is now more shaky than before,” wrote La Stampa columnist Marcello Sorgi.

The defections in Five Star leave the anti-immigration League of Matteo Salvini as the biggest party in parliament, but it too is struggling with waning public support.

Media reports this week suggest this could work in Giorgia Meloni’s favour in the next election – the far-right Brothers of Italy leader is now being touted as potentially becoming the country’s first female prime minister, as her party remains the only one in opposition to Draghi’s coalition.