Italian Politics into Turmoil Once Again
The fall of Mario Draghi has thrown Italian politics into turmoil once again. His resignation comes as the European Union as a whole is attempting to keep its united front on Ukraine from fraying.
“The Russians are right now celebrating having made another western government fall,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told Politico last week. “Now I doubt we can send arms [to Ukraine]. It is one of the many serious problems.”
Polls indicate that snap elections in the fall will favor a far-right government, a political bloc that has traditionally been more sympathetic toward Russia across Europe.
That warmer attitude toward Russia is already present among Italians. Among Europeans, when it comes to Ukraine, Italians are the least likely to blame Russia for the war and in a June poll, about half of respondents opposed sending defensive weapons to Ukraine.
Italy’s business community is also seen as supportive of Russia. Senior business leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin as recently as Jan. 26, just weeks before Russia launched its invasion.
So is Italy about to play spoiler? Based on the rhetoric of those who might replace Draghi, that seems unlikely. Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy, which currently leads in polls, has gone out of her way to distance herself from Vladimir Putin and has described the invasion as an “unacceptable large scale act of war by Putin’s Russia against Ukraine.”
Meloni’s approach is in line with Pew polling which shows that, despite Italy’s historical ties with Russia, few trust the man in the Kremlin. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, just 11 percent of Italians surveyed said they trusted Putin to do the right thing in world affairs.
Although Meloni’s party is widely described as far-right, in part due to its ties to Italy’s neofascist movement, she rejects the label. Like her counterpart in France, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, Meloni has been trying to project a more palatable image to the voting public.
"I don’t see what elements may support the definition of Brothers of Italy as a far-right party,” Meloni told media, “we are a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party … which is the family of the European and Western conservatives, joined by more than 40 parties in several countries, spanning from the Likud in Israel to the Tories in the U.K. and the GOP in the U.S.”
By toeing the mainstream line on Putin, Meloni stands apart from Matteo Salvini’s League party which has struggled to make inroads beyond its right-wing base. And although the League currently trails Brothers of Italy by eight percentage points in polls, the two would likely enter government as coalition partners, along with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
Dario Cristiani, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said that although Salvini and Meloni represent different stances on Russia, the League’s internal factions hold enough Euro-Atlanticist supporters to keep Italy on a similar path to the one it’s on now. “My personal view is that there will not be any loud change or something extremely visible,” Cristiani said.
Still, as the Sept. 25 election approaches, Cristiani said the public’s view on the war will likely trump any ideological considerations: “It might be easier for the war fatigue in public opinion to have a role in shaping the choices of the next government. So it might not be: We will leave the transatlantic consensus, but it might be less weapons to Ukraine from 2023 onwards.”