Italy has been one of Russia’s main partners in Europe and a strategic ally of President Vladimir Putin on trade issues. Only four years ago, the League government and the 5 Star Movement further strengthened these ties. For this reason, each time the hotbed of war crosses the transalpine country, the seams of this relationship are seen again. The President of Ukraine, Volodímir Zelenski, appeared this Tuesday by videoconference at the Italian Chamber of Deputies. He thanked Italy for its support, but called for even stronger sanctions and opposition to Russia.
Zelensky’s appearance at the Montecitorio Palace – an hour earlier he had called Pope Francis, who also showed his support – is one more step in the Ukrainian president’s telematic tour of international parliaments. He did so solemnly, in front of all the senators and deputies and the President of the Council of Ministers, Mario Draghi. All “clearly condemned the Russian attack”. The standing applause of the members of the two Chambers lasted several minutes and left no doubt. Draghi was adamant in his speech, in which he directly attacked “the arrogance of the Russian government” and went so far as to proclaim that “Italy wants Ukraine in the European Union”. Zelensky was speaking preceded by a controversy in some sectors of the split part of the 5 Star Movement (M5S), which created its own political group, and on Monday he also claimed to hear the version of the Russian part. But this Tuesday the support was unanimous.
Zelensky had a less belligerent tone than before the German Parliament. But he warned Italians of what could happen if the pressure on Putin did not increase, likening the destruction of cities like Mariupol to what it would mean for similarly sized Italian cities like Genoa. Moreover, he recalled that 117 children have already died since the beginning of the invasion. “Everything must be done to guarantee peace. It is a war organized for years by one person, earning gas money and using it for war. He wants to control your lives and your politics, destroy your democratic values. Ukraine is the door of the Russian army to Europe. And they want to enter Europe, but barbarism must not enter. (…) The invasion lasted 27 days, almost a month. So we need more sanctions and more pressure until peace comes,” he said across the screen.
Ban on Russian holidays in Italy
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Ukraine’s president has called for increased efforts to isolate Putin, also closing the door on Russian citizens vacationing in Italy. “You know who orders to fight and who brought the war to Ukraine. Everyone uses Italy for their holidays. You don’t have to host these people. Their assets must be blocked and frozen. Your accounts, yachts, even the smallest ones. Freeze all assets of those with decision-making power in Russia. Sanctions and the embargo against all must be supported. No exceptions for any Russian bank. We must stop the murders and the Russian war,” he insisted. The situation, Zelensky recalls, is extreme. And comparable to what the Nazis did, he says. “There are Russian army soldiers torturing, raping and kidnapping children. They steal from us. That’s what the Nazis did when they occupied other countries.”
Italy has always had a high level of promiscuity with Russia. From the time when the Italian Communist Party was the largest in Europe, through Silvio Berlusconi’s intense friendship with Putin, to the flirtations of the populist executive who formed the 5 Star Movement with the League in 2018. The image of Russian trucks entering Bergamo in the midst of a pandemic to provide health and logistical aid showed the last postcard of an air that in recent years has resulted in a succulent commercial exchange -7,000 million euros of exports to Russia and 12,600 million of imports – and which now puts many Putin loyalists in an uncomfortable situation.
However, the situation has changed in recent weeks and Russia has placed Italy on the blacklist of countries. They did not like the statements, acts or measures against the oligarchs inside the Italian borders. “If the Italian government follows France in declaring a total financial and economic war on Russia by approving new sanctions, there will be the corresponding irreversible consequences”, threatened Alexei Paramonov, former Russian consul in Milan and now director of the European Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Paramonov also reminded Italy of the help it had received during the pandemic and accused Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini of being “a falcon and one of the main instigators of the Italian government’s anti-Russian campaign”.
Draghi was very clear in his speech and left behind any hesitation in the country on this issue. “The arrogance of the Russian government has collided with the dignity of the Ukrainian people, which is dampening Moscow’s expansionist desires and imposing extremely high costs on the invader. The resistance of Mariupol and other cities to which Putin’s ferocity appears is heroic. Today, Ukraine defends our peace, our freedom, our security. A multilateral order based on rules and rights that we built with great effort after the war. Italy is deeply grateful to him. Italy will not turn its back on Ukraine. The government and parliament are on the front line to support Ukraine,” Draghi said.
Italy must now find a solution to the energy problem. It is one of the most dependent countries in Western Europe, since almost half of its supply (46%) comes from Russia. In recent years, Rome has considerably intensified its energy relationship with Moscow, despite its proximity to other suppliers such as Algeria, Tunisia or Libya, which supply this hydrocarbon to Italy through gas pipelines which are not fully loaded. , such as the TransMed or the GreenStream. . As Draghi himself recalled, 10 years ago the transalpine country only imported around 27% of its gas from Russia.
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