Italian PM Mario Draghi intervened on Wednesday at the Crimean Platform to cheer Ukraine on its Independence Day, but Italy’s tone could change after the elections.
“Dear President Zelensky, dear Ukrainian citizens, my heartfelt congratulations on your National celebration. The friendship between Italy and Ukraine is strong and has become stronger following Russia’s brutal invasion. Your courage, your will to live in a sovereign and free country, your attachment to European values are a source of inspiration for all of us,” Italy’s outgoing prime minister declared.
He went on: “Italy is close to your people, to the victims’ families, to the millions forced to flee. Since the start of the conflict, Italians have welcomed thousands of your citizens into their own homes, with warmth, care, and generosity. Our government provided and will keep providing you, with political, financial, military, and humanitarian support. We want to help you defend yourselves, to achieve a lasting peace, under the terms you deem satisfactory. I thank the Ukrainian authorities for their contribution in finding a solution that unlocked grain exports from the Black Sea harbors. The deal is a first, important step towards guaranteeing the world’s food security.”
“As I said during my visit to Kyiv, we’ll rebuild it all, together. We will remain at your side, along this path. I wish you all a happy National day.”
Given the upcoming elections and the fact that the right-wing coalition is currently 20% ahead in the polls, Draghi’s statements sound like reassurance that Italy will keep supporting Ukraine as effectively as it has since the start of the war.
How Italy’s position on Ukraine could change
One of the features of Draghi’s outgoing government has been its staunch support of Ukraine, but following the political crisis in July, Italy is set to vote on September 25.
While the ruling party of the center-left wing coalition has remained steady in its Atlantic positioning, and the “third pole” – a coalition of minor, but rising, center parties – has not wavered in its support for Ukraine, the right-wing parties have a special relationship with Russia.
The right-wing coalition includes three parties, Silvio Berlusconi’s “Forza Italia” party, Matteo Salvini’s “Lega” party, and Giorgia Meloni’s “Fratelli d’Italia” party.
Berlusconi, whose personal friendship with Putin is more obvious than his position on the war in Ukraine, has proved himself as a master of deception, managing to keep a low profile on the matter.
Salvini, who has tried to remain ambiguous about the war, but with less success – especially when, in March, he was welcomed by the mayor of the Polish city of Przemysl who seemed unimpressed by Salvini’s “peace mission” to the border with Ukraine, instead reminding Salvini about how he had worn a Putin shirt while visiting Moscow as a happy tourist.
Now that there is a realistic possibility of getting into government along with his right-wing frenemies, Salvini has already taken the opportunity to comment on the sanctions imposed on Russia. “They are apparently ill-conceived. The sanctions were supposed to bring Russia to its knees. After six months, the opposite is true. I think it’s therefore normal to reconsider them. If we are helping those who are supposed to be sanctioned, it doesn’t work, and so they should reconsider them in Brussels,” he said.
At the same time, Giorgia Meloni, whose party was in the opposition during the current legislation, remained adamant about supporting the government’s stance on Ukraine, and its economic measures. However, she stressed that this should not overshadow “Fratelli d’Italia” – ties with the European far-right and populist groups – including Orban’s Hungary, France’s Le Pen, and the Spanish “Vox”, and the traditionally pro-Kremlin positions of those political forces.
It is possible that while in opposition Meloni acted responsibly and supported the policies of Draghi’s government to keep a low profile and to build a chronology of reliability and institutional credibility to safeguard voter support in future elections. In a government position, Meloni would have the chance to water down her “Atlanticism”, allowing the right-wing government to start questioning sanctions on Russia and military aid to Ukraine.
Dismantling Draghi’s Legacy
While at the end of July Italy gave up Draghi’s government without much of a fight, the Executive kept working and has approved major economic measures, strengthening results already achieved in the second trimester of 2022. Since the economy is now the primary concern for Italian voters, a new government will likely benefit from the results of Draghi’s policies, while it dismantles the tenets of that legislation and relaunches Italy as an unstable and unreliable international partner.
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