Italy breaks with European allies and voices support for Russia

Italy breaks with European allies and voices support for Russia

Italy's incoming right-wing populist prime minister has used his maiden speech to call for the lifting of sanctions against Russia, opening a rift with the country’s EU allies on the issue. The Independent reports in its article Italy breaks with European allies and voices support for Russia after populist party takes power that Giuseppe Conte, who leads a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League, said his government would “promote a review of the sanctions system” in meetings with other EU leaders.

In his first speech to the Italian senate, Mr Conte outlined his administration’s priorities, including a crackdown on irregular migrants and an end to austerity economic policies.

Mr Conte’s government won its first vote of confidence in the senate and is expected to also be approved by the lower house of parliament, the chamber of deputies. Under Italy’s unusual political system, the confidence of houses is required to form a government.

A lawyer with practically no political experience, Mr Conte was the PM choice of League leader Matteo Salvini and Five Star leader Luigi di Maio. The two politicians will now serve as his deputy prime ministers.

“We will be the advocates of an opening towards Russia,” Mr Conte told senators. “A Russia which has consolidated its international role in recent years in various geopolitical crises. We will promote a revising of sanctions, starting with those that demean Russia’s civil society.”

Mr Conte’s intervention on Russia comes as Vladimir Putin visits neighbouring Austria, where a right-wing coalition government also favours closer ties to Moscow. “We need to build cooperation with the EU. We do not aim to divide the EU.” Mr Putin told Austrian broadcaster ORF during this visit.

Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros this week accused Italy’s junior coalition partner, the League, of potentially being Kremlin-funded, arguing that “Italian public opinion has the right to know”.

Mr Salvini, who has repeatedly visited Moscow, angrily denied the suggestions stating that he had “never received a lira, a euro or a rouble from Russia”. He said that he was an admirer of the Russia president, and believed Mr Putin was “one of the best statesmen”.

The EU decided to impose sanctions on Russia “in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and deliberate destabilisation of a neighbouring sovereign country”, namely Ukraine.

The sanctions include diplomatic measures, such as holding summits without Russia, asset freezes and visa bans on 149 individuals and 38 entities, and an economic blockade on Crimea and Sevastopol.

Italy’s populist government is the latest in a series of right-wing regimes to spring up across Europe. In Hungary, Viktor Orban has cracked down on civil society, while in Poland the Law and Justice party has moved forwards with controversial constitutional reforms that critics say would give the government political influence over judges and courts. 

In other countries, right-wingers have also made strides, with the Front National’s Marine Le Pen coming second in the French presidential election, and a far-right anti-Islam party, the AfD, gaining representation in the Bundestag for the first time in decades. In the US, Donald Trump has been accused by liberal critics of “collusion” with Russia.

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