Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-Right League party, on Sunday called for an end to sanctions on Russia that are leaving citizens “on their knees” because of higher energy bills.
“Several months have passed and people are paying two, three, even four times more for their bills,” he told RTL radio. “And after seven months, the war continues and Russian Federation coffers are filling with money.”
Skyrocketing energy prices since the start of the war in Ukraine have inflicted economic pain on countries in the European Union which before the war had been reliant on Russia for a large chunk of its gas supplies.
Mr Salvini, who is likely to enter government as part of a hard-Right coalition after Italy’s elections later in September, doubled down on his comments during a debate at an economic forum being held in Cernobbio, northern Italy.
“We need a European shield to protect businesses and families, as during the Covid pandemic,” Mr Salvini told delegates during the forum.
“If we want to go ahead with the sanctions, let’s do it, we want to protect Ukraine – but I would not want that to mean that instead of harming the sanctioned, we harm ourselves,” he said.
‘Someone made a bad calculation’
A day earlier he had tweeted that “those who have been sanctioned are winners and those who put the sanctions in place are on their knees.
“It’s evident that someone in Europe has made a bad calculation. It is essential to rethink the strategy to save jobs and businesses in Italy,” he said.
Following Mr Salvini’s comments, Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party and one of his main adversaries ahead of parliamentary elections on Sept 25, retorted on Twitter: “I think Putin couldn’t have said it better.”
He later told reporters on the sidelines of the forum on the banks of Lake Como that they were “irresponsible” statements which “risk causing very serious damage to Italy, to our reliability and to our role in Europe.
“When I hear Salvini talk about sanctions, I feel like I’m listening to Putin’s propaganda.”
Links between Mr Salvini and Moscow have raised concerns in Italy, particularly since the invasion of Ukraine.
But Giorgia Meloni, the hard-Right prime ministerial hopeful whose Brothers of Italy party has formed an alliance with Salvini’s anti-immigration League, has taken a clear position in favour of support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.
“If Italy lets go of its allies for Ukraine nothing changes, but for us a lot changes. A serious nation that wants to defend its interests must take a credible position,” she told the forum.
Anger over fast-rising inflation
On Saturday thousands of Czechs protested in Prague against the EU and its support for Ukraine, handing the Kremlin a propaganda coup.
The protest was organised by far-Right and far-Left fringe parties which have tapped into anger over fast-rising inflation.
“The Czech Republic needs a Czech government,” said Zuzana Majerova Zahradnikova, head of the Tricolor, one of the organisers of the protest. “The government of Fiala may be Ukrainian, maybe Brussels, but definitely not Czech.”
Protesters held placards saying “This is not our war” and posters of Petr Fiala, the centre-Right prime minister, wearing a US-styled top hat, a Nato-branded tie and a shirt in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
For Russian news channels, an important part of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, the protests were one of the top stories of the day and were replayed continually.
The Kremlin has used its dominance over European gas supplies to pursue its version of “total war” which includes cutting supplies. This week it said that its Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Europe had been damaged and would be shut down indefinitely.
Witnesses said that an estimated 70,000 people poured into Wenceslas Square at the heart of Prague for the protest, the day after the government survived a no-confidence vote.
The Czech government has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine’s fight against Russia and Mr Fiala blamed the Kremlin’s propaganda for influencing protesters.
“It is clear that Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns appear on our territory repeatedly, and someone simply succumbs to them,” he said.