Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote

A sign of diplomatic ties or brazen trolling? Three days before Italy's elections, the Russian embassy tweeted photos of almost all the main party leaders with President Vladimir Putin.

Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi pictured together in 2015. The Russian Embassy has published more photos of Putin with Italian political leaders ahead of the country’s election. Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ / RIA NOVOSTI / AFP

“From the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy. We have some memories,” the embassy wrote on Thursday, at the end of a campaign where the Ukraine war and Italy’s ties with Moscow have taken centre stage.

READ ALSO: Italy’s right confident of election victory at last rallies before vote

One photo showed Putin and former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi leaning towards each other, while another portrayed Putin shaking hands with a smiling Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party.

Another showed Putin standing between anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini – a long-standing Putin admirer – former premier Giuseppe Conte, now head of the populist Five Star Movement, and ex-Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s current foreign minister.

The last photo showed Putin smiling while shaking hands with former prime minister Matteo Renzi, now leading a centrist party – though Renzi looks a little uncomfortable.

The only major party leader not included in the photos was Giorgia Meloni, whose Fratelli d’Italia party is predicted to come out on top in general elections on Sunday. Her party was, until very recently, almost unknown and has never been in power.

Italy’s current government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been strongly supportive of Western sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

Meloni has backed the measures, and the sending of weapons to Kyiv, but is fighting the election as part of a right-wing alliance alongside Salvini and Berlusconi, both known for their friendly relationships with Moscow.

Salvini has been highly critical of the sanctions, saying they are harming Europe and Italy more than Moscow.

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.