Italy has often been viewed as a “challenging ally” by Ukrainian observers in the context of Russia’s ongoing aggression against Kyiv – and rightly so. Compared to other European nations, Italian public sentiment is seemingly less inclined towards supporting Ukraine. Indeed, roughly half of Italians oppose the notion of sending arms, while an increasing number seek an end to the conflict, even if it leads to Ukraine ceding territory.

Russian narratives often dominate public debate, creating an additional hurdle. Nevertheless, despite these issues, the Italian government’s support for Ukraine remains staunch and wide-ranging, encompassing not only military aid but also significant economic assistance.

Proof of the excellent state of the relationship is President Volodymyr Zelensky’s official state visit to Rome on May 13, where he met with Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. The Ukrainian Presidency’s official statement praised Italy’s “solid military contributions” to Ukraine, committed to addressing Ukraine’s immediate and urgent defense needs, both bilaterally and via the European Union and NATO.

Advertisement

Meloni openly stated that Italy stands with Ukraine and its allies, asserting that “Italy will continue to provide military support” to Ukraine to ensure a “solid position” in negotiations. Rome also supports “President Zelensky’s 10-point peace formula” and Ukraine’s “legitimate European aspirations”. She added, “We are ready to support further intensification of Ukraine’s partnership with NATO”, preparing to make it a central theme in the forthcoming Vilnius summit.

‘Shipments Start in the Next Few Hours’ – US Rushes Military Aid to Ukraine
Other Topics of Interest

‘Shipments Start in the Next Few Hours’ – US Rushes Military Aid to Ukraine

Immediately after President Biden’s announcement, the Pentagon revealed a $1 billion aid package for Kyiv, utilizing the fresh funding, on its way to Ukraine.

In February, Defense Minister Guido Crosetto signed the sixth decree for military aid to Ukraine. Specifics of the weaponry supplied by Italy to Ukraine remain confidential. However, during his visit to Rome, Zelensky emphasized the importance of the advanced anti-air system SAMP-T, which Italy, in conjunction with France, agreed to supply, and that it should be fully operational in the coming weeks once Paris delivers its parts. This support was reiterated at the G7 summit in Hiroshima in Japan when Meloni and Zelensky met again, and the Ukrainian President stressed how important is to continue “the dialogue between Ukraine and Italy on bilateral relations” adding that the parties discussed “Italy’s political and defense support for Ukraine and the initial results of the May 13 visit to Italy.”

Advertisement

Despite public opinion remaining somewhat skeptical and critical, there is substantial unity within Italy’s political circles regarding Ukraine. The views of majority members historically critical of Ukraine and sympathetic to Russia, such as Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, have been partially eclipsed. The principal opposition party, the Democratic Party (PD), also under its new, more left-leaning leadership of Elly Schlein, continues to support Ukraine unequivocally.

Only the 5 Star Movement (M5S) is currently trying to capitalize on public skepticism towards Ukraine. M5S’s leader, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, has frequently voiced his opposition to sending additional arms to Ukraine. M5S changed its position from the previous year, voting against a legislative decree in January extending the authorization to provide arms to Ukraine until Dec. 31, 2023. Nonetheless, the parliament approved the decree with 215 votes in favor and 46 against, indicating Italy’s steadfast commitment to Ukraine. However, the recent results in local elections suggest this strategy is not yielding dividends, and inside the party there are mounting criticisms of Conte’s leadership.

Advertisement

A few days before President Zelensky’s visit, Italy also hosted a Bilateral Reconstruction Conference in Rome on April 26, emphasizing its dedication to Ukrainian reconstruction efforts. Meloni held a bilateral meeting with Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal. This event was Meloni’s initiative, proposed during her visit to Kyiv in February.

At the forum, Meloni pledged Italy’s continued support for Ukraine on political, military, humanitarian, and reconstruction fronts. She emphasized that peace was essential but should not be pursued at the expense of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, adding that Italy advocates for a “diplomatic solution to the conflict… but we do not believe that the solution can be the surrender of Ukraine.”

Advertisement

The Prime Minister’s sentiment was echoed by President Sergio Mattarella, who called for a “just peace that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” Italy’s Minister of Economic Development, Adolfo Urso, who was also Meloni’s envoy to Ukraine when the party was in the opposition, revealed that over 1,000 Italian companies are considering investing and operating in Ukraine.

In light of such investment, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, highlighted the potential role of Italian SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) in Ukraine’s future, thereby sending a message to various Italian sectors that they can play a part in Ukraine’s progress. The Minister of Economy and Finance, Giancarlo Giorgetti, announced Italy’s €100 million commitment to the European Investment Bank’s EU for Ukraine Fund.

Although the war is clearly far from over, Meloni stressed that the conference was already discussing ways to help Ukraine rebuild part of its strategic infrastructure, looking “also, and above all, toward tomorrow.” Starting discussions on reconstruction now can be helpful for a number of reasons, as it can serve both international and domestic purposes.

Regarding the former, Rome’s relationship with Moscow has changed substantially due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Italy might re-engage eventually, but returning to “business as usual” seems unlikely. In this context, Italy has an opportunity to be a significant contributor to Ukraine’s reconstruction, especially through its SMEs, which possess the necessary expertise and flexibility for the Ukrainian context.

Advertisement

This government initiative also carries a political objective. Although Italy’s unwavering support for Ukraine and its transatlantic commitments are clear, a significant portion of Italian public opinion, as mentioned already, is weary of the conflict and hesitant about Italy’s military assistance to Ukraine. As such, demonstrating Italy’s comprehensive aid to Ukraine, not just in terms of military support, can help assuage public opinion and maintain a sustainable commitment to Ukraine. It would also forestall potential temptations among some actors to shift support for short-term domestic political gain.

Moreover, planning for reconstruction can lend substance to Ukraine’s European Union aspirations. Italy’s previous government, led by Mario Draghi, played a pivotal role in encouraging the EU to grant Ukraine the status of a candidate for EU accession, overcoming initial reservations from some EU members. However, challenges remain, such as Ukraine’s ability to meet the Copenhagen Criteria promptly and the impact a country of Ukraine’s size can have on the EU’s institutional and geopolitical balances.

Advertisement

Finally, it’s essential to address Ukraine’s ongoing economic and logistical dependence on Russia, especially in sectors like energy and nuclear power. While this dependence has significantly reduced over time, there is a need to cut ties with Moscow’s economic influence further. Deepening economic ties with Europe can aid in this endeavor, also minimizing the risk of countries like China filling the gap, as Beijing has become one of Kyiv’s top economic partners in recent years. Strengthening economic ties with countries beyond Ukraine’s immediate neighborhood is thus critical to its deeper integration into Europe.

So, while there remains a perceptible level of skepticism within Italian public opinion regarding military support for Ukraine, Italy’s political sphere remains steadfast in its support. Italy’s commitment to Ukraine is comprehensive, extending beyond military aid to substantial economic support, particularly in terms of investment and reconstruction efforts.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post, nor do they express the views or opinions of the German Marshall Fund.

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Comments (0)

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Write the first comment for this!