Italy’s Salvini questioned over Russia ties ahead of election campaign

Italian anti-immigrant leader Matteo Salvini's ties with Russia were again under scrutiny on Thursday following questions about the run-up to the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government.

Anti-immigrant League party leader Matteo Salvini has attracted scrutiny over his ties to Russia as Italy's general election campaign kicks off
Anti-immigrant League party leader Matteo Salvini has attracted scrutiny over his ties to Russia as Italy's general election campaign kicks off. Photo by PEDRO ROCHA / AFP.

La Stampa newspaper reported that a diplomat at the Russian embassy met one of Salvini’s aides in late May in Rome, and asked if any of the ministers from Salvini’s League party intended to resign from Draghi’s coalition.

The League pulled out of the government last week, alongside Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the populist Five Star Movement, causing Draghi to resign and triggering September elections.

The meeting was said to have taken place at the same time as Salvini drew criticism for conducting parallel diplomacy with Russia over the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: ‘No respect’: Polish mayor confronts Italy’s Salvini over Putin support

He planned a trip to Moscow ostensibly for peace talks — with flights bought by the Russian embassy, an arrangement his team insists was only done due to difficulties circumventing EU sanctions.

They said they reimbursed the embassy and the trip in the end never happened.

Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio on Thursday condemned “this attempt by the Russian side to have the League minister withdraw from Draghi’s government”.

Salvini “must explain the relations he has with Russia”, said Di Maio, like Draghi a strong advocate of EU sanctions against Moscow and Italy’s sending of weapons and money to help Kyiv’s resistance.

Przemysl’s mayor Wojciech Bakun (L) confronted Italian League leader Matteo Salvini (R) during his visit to Poland on March 8th over his admiration and support for the Russian president in recent years. Photo by STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, also said the ties between Salvini and Russia were “concerning”.

Salvini hit back condemning “fake news”, putting the claims down to mud-slinging at the start of the campaign for the September 25th elections.

“A divided and desperate left… spends its time looking for fascists, Russians and racists who are not there,” he said, insisting his party was “on the side of the West”.

READ ALSO: ‘Not one ruble’: Italy’s Salvini denies his party took Russian money

The Russian embassy did not comment, but has previously denied interfering in Italian affairs.

Salvini has long admired President Vladimir Putin, even wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face, a stance that has become politically difficult since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

One of his election allies, Berlusconi, is also a personal friend of Putin, although their coalition partner Giorgia Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy and is currently leading opinion polls, has strongly criticised Russian aggression.

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Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.