Italy’s Salvini calls for Europe to ‘rethink’ sanctions on Russia

The leader of Italy's far-right League party, Matteo Salvini, on Sunday said the unprecedented sanctions the West had imposed on Russia over the Ukraine invasion weren't working.

Italy's Salvini calls for Europe to 'rethink' sanctions on Russia
People take part in a demonstration against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the northern city of Milan, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Several months have passed and people are paying two, three, even four times more for their bills,” he told RTL radio. “And after seven months, the war continues and Russian Federation coffers are filling with money.”

Skyrocketing energy prices since the start of the war in Ukraine have inflicted economic pain on countries in the European Union which before the war had been reliant on Russia for a large chunk of its gas supplies.

READ ALSO: Will Italy’s hard right win the election with a ‘super majority’?

Salvini later doubled down on his comments during a debate at an economic forum being held in Cernobbio, northern Italy.

“We need a European shield” to protect businesses and families, as during the Covid pandemic, Salvini told delegates during the forum.

“If we want to go ahead with the sanctions, let’s do it, we want to protect Ukraine — but I would not want that to mean that instead of harming the sanctioned, we harm ourselves,” he said.

Italy’s League party leader Matteo Salvini, known for his admiration of Vladimir Putin, said Russia has no influence on Italy’s elections. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

A day earlier he had tweeted that “those who have been sanctioned are winners and those who put the sanctions in place are on their knees.”

“It’s evident that someone in Europe has made a bad calculation. It is essential to rethink the strategy to save jobs and businesses in Italy,” he said.

Following Salvini’s comments, Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party and one of his main adversaries ahead of parliamentary elections on September 25 retorted on Twitter: “I think (Russian President Vladimir) Putin couldn’t have said it better.”

He later told reporters on the sidelines of the forum on the banks of Lake Como that they were “irresponsible” statements which “risk causing very serious damage to Italy, to our reliability and to our role in Europe”.

“When I hear Salvini talk about sanctions, I feel like I’m listening to Putin’s propaganda.”

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

Salvini is well known as being an admirer of Vladimir Putin, and links between his League party and Moscow have raised concerns in Italy, particularly since the invasion of Ukraine.

But Giorgia Meloni – the post-fascist prime ministerial hopeful whose Brothers of Italy party has formed an alliance with the League – has taken a clear position in favour of support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.

“If Italy lets go of its allies, for Ukraine nothing changes, but for us, a lot changes. A serious nation that wants to defend its interests must take a credible position,” she told delegates in Cernobbio.

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Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter ‘defamation’ trial

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter 'defamation' trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.