After Mario Draghi’s coalition government collapsed, plunging Italy into fresh turmoil, an unsettling question is hanging in the air: was the Kremlin involved?
Two incidents involving contact between right-wing party chiefs and Russian diplomats have triggered a round of finger-pointing in Rome as the election campaign gets into gear.
POLITICO, referring to an article on La Repubblica reports that in the first incident, in May a Russian embassy official asked a foreign affairs adviser to Matteo Salvini — Meloni’s ally in the far-right League party — if he intended to pull his ministers out of Draghi’s coalition, according to La Stampa newspaper on Thursday, which cited intelligence reports.
The second incident centers on Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former PM and a long-time ally of Putin’s. Berlusconi, who leads the center-right Forza Italia party, spoke to the Russian ambassador on the day that he withdrew his backing for Draghi’s government, according to reports in La Repubblica on Friday.
Forza Italia heavyweights jump ship, join Italy centrists
Two senior members of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia group said on Friday they were joining the small centrist Azione party ahead of forthcoming elections, saying Italy’s conservative bloc had become too extremist.
Maria Stella Gelmini and Mara Carfagna, both ministers in the outgoing government, announced their move at a news conference alongside the leader of Azione, Carlo Calenda, who is looking to drain votes from disaffected Forza Italia supporters.
Forza Italia was one of three parties that withdrew support from Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity administration last week, looking to cash in on favourable opinion polls which showed the rightist bloc would win a snap election.
The ballot is set for Sept. 25 and polls show Forza Italia and its allies, the far-right Brothers of Italy and League, are on course to win a clear majority.
However, support for Forza Italia is slipping, with some voters reportedly angry about its role in unseating the respected Draghi, and Calenda, a former businessman, is looking to draw moderates to his side.
“Is the election over? No. This right cannot win,” Calenda said, portraying the rightist bloc as extremists under the sway of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Berlusconi and League leader Matteo Salvini have been very close to Putin in the past and Italian newspapers this week reported that both their parties have had contacts with the Russian embassy in recent weeks despite the war in Ukraine.
Berlusconi has denied talking to the Russian ambassador while the League has denied any wrongdoing.
Carfagna, a model-turned-politician, said she was glad to be joining a moderate political force. “I have the certainty of being in a party where no one will dream of plotting with Russia or with China to the detriment of the current government.”
Latest opinion polls suggest Calenda could take 6% of the vote in September, just one percentage point behind Forza Italia.
However, Italy’s election law favors parties that form broad alliances, leaving Calenda with a dilemma over whether to forge a pact with the center-left Democratic Party (PD) — the second largest party in the country.
Such an alliance would boost the center-left’s chances of preventing a rightist triumph but it could also drive away wavering Forza Italia voters that Calenda wants to attract.
“If Calenda does not enter into a coalition with the PD, the center-left will certainly be defeated,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a politics professor at Rome’s Luiss University.
“His is the only party that can act as a magnet towards center-right voters,” he added. (Reporting by Crispian Balmer Editing by Gareth Jones)
Reuters / Politico